Trump’s militarism: a dead end

Trump’s militarism: a dead end
Bob Sheak – February 25, 2019

Noam Chomsky, world renown theoretical linguist, writer, and critic of U.S. imperialism and political-economy, has warned us many times in his writing that the two greatest threats to humanity are the growing threat of nuclear war and the unfolding and increasingly disruptive climate change. One of his many books focuses entirely on these threats, namely, NuclearWar and Environmental Catastrophe. According to Chomsky, “there are now questions of decent survival that cannot be shunted aside: the persistent danger of nuclear war, and the threat of environmental disaster, already unfolding and likely to become far more severe if we persist on our present course of denial” (p. 79). Of course, his voice is just one of a growing multitude in this regard, but one that is extraordinary in analysis and documentation.

The scientific consensus is broad, involving 97 percent of all climate scientists and a growing, already vast, body of empirically-grounded, peer-reviewed research findings documenting massive climate disruption. Even the top officials at the Pentagon have long agreed that there is a worrisome link between climate “change” and national security. For example, Nicholas Kusnetz reports in an article for Inside Climate News on a new Department of Defense report that “lists climate change vulnerabilities at 79 key military facilities, including risks from wildfires and severe weather, like this 2018 storm that damaged buildings and caused flooding at an Air Force base in Texas,” and that “the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the looming threat” (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/18012019/military-bases-climate-change-risks-wildfires-flooding-defense-department-report-congress).

The DOD released a more expansive climate “vulnerability” report in early 2018. Daniel Ross reports on the highlights for Common Dreams. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/10/2/us-defense-department-losing-battle-against-climate-change).

The report looks at the impact of climate change on more than 3,500 military installations. The conclusion: “That more than half of these installations are affected by flooding, drought, winds, wildfires, storm surges and extreme temperatures. Drought proved the single biggest challenge to the military, affecting nearly 800 bases. Next up was wind, which affected more than 750 bases, while non-storm surge-related flooding impacted a little more than 700 bases.” Ross quotes Michael Klare, professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, on how the military chiefs view “climate change as a threat to what they do on multiple levels.” Klare is further quoted: “It’s a threat to their bases. It’s a threat to their operations. It creates insurgencies. It creates problems for them. They’re aware of that, and they want to minimize those impediments.” And Ross makes another point, namely, that “climate change has long been on the military’s radar. It was the George W. Bush administration, for example, that required the Defense Department to procure 25 percent of its energy for its buildings from renewables by 2025. Even President Ronald Reagan received military memos warning of global warming. While in 2014, the department published a roadmap establishing an outline to deal with the threats from climate change within the military, as ordered by then-President Barack Obama.” Well, as we have come to know all too well, any acknowledgement of anthropogenic climate disruption ends with the Trump presidency, as we now suffer under the climate-denial policies of the Trump administration.

Trump’s climate-change denial and saber rattling take us to higher levels of danger

The militaristic and climate-denying policies pushed by president Donald Trump and his administration make nuclear war more likely and move humanity toward unstoppable cataclysmic climate disruption. I’ve recently sent out essays on the climate crisis, so here I focus on the military/nuclear issues and consider recent evidence that document that under Trump there is an ever-more ramped up U.S. military force, an increased emphasis on nuclear weapons as one part of this policy, and signs that we are now being led into a new, dangerous period of military antagonisms, if not conflicts, with Russia and China, antagonisms that could easily spill over into military encounters, accidental or intentional, and to outright war, in which case it would likely be nuclear war. Trump’s militaristic stance is premised on the notion that America’s interests are best advanced by maintaining the country’s military advantage, especially in a world in which U.S. power is challenged. (See, for example, Alfred W. McCoy’s book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.)

Now this goal of maintaining U.S. military dominance in the world did not begin with Trump, but he has embraced the idea as no other president before him. If you are interested in this history, check out John W. Dower’s short and readable book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II. For example, the cold war with the Soviet Union goes back to 1946 and ends in 1991 with the collapse of that federation, while the concept of a military-industrial complex goes back to the 1950s, when then President Eisenhower used the term.

An unstable president with awesome power

We now have a president who is reported to be unstable and maliciously narcissistic, who puts everything aside in his pursuit of political advantage and personal aggrandizement. He believes that he knows more than the generals and seems to love the idea of having a military force that is always growing and able to intimidate or defeat any adversary. He yearns to have big military parades in honor of himself. And, in all this, he is encouraged by compliant cabinet officials and presidential advisers., and if they are not acquiescent, he gets rid of them.

Trump is reported to make decisions on an emotional and uninformed whim. And be reminded he has the authority to start a nuclear war. Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright, two senior scientists at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, point out that the president has the authority to order the launch of nuclear warheads and how he would do it (https://thebulletin.org/how-nuclear-attack-order-carried-out-now11455). Here’s some of what they write.

“If the president is not at the White House or other location with secure communication, he or she would use the so-called nuclear football to order the use of nuclear weapons. The football, or Presidential Emergency Satchel, is a briefcase containing various items, including a book laying out various attack options, from striking a small number of military targets to launching an all-out attack against Russian nuclear forces, military installations, leadership facilities, military industry, and economic centers. This briefcase is carried by an aide who stays near the president at all times.

“The president carries a card—the ‘biscuit’—with a code that changes periodically and would be used to authenticate a launch order. To order the use of nuclear weapons, either first or in retaliation, the president would call the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center—known as the War Room—read the code on the biscuit to confirm that he or she is indeed the president, and specify what attack option to use….
“After confirming the president’s identity, the Command Center would send an encrypted launch order to aircraft pilots, the underground crews that launch land-based missiles, and/or the submarine crews that launch submarine-based missiles.

“For land-based missiles, it would be a matter of minutes from the presidential order to when missiles would leave their silos.

“If the War Room is unable to function during a crisis, the War Room’s role is taken over by Strategic Command.”

This presidential power to launch on command worries the psychiatrists and mental health experts whose views are compiled in the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Robert Jay Lifton, one of the contributors, includes a reference to a letter he co-authored with Judith Herman that was published in the New York Times in March 2017. The letter, here I quote, “stressed Trump’s dangerous individual psychological patterns: his creation of his own reality and his inability to manage the inevitable crises that face an American president.” Lifton continues: “He has also, in various ways, violated our American institutional requirements and threatened the viability of American democracy. Yet, because he is president and operates within broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process – that is, as politically and ethically normal. In this way, a dangerous president becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate our governing (or one could say, our antigoverning) dynamic” (pp. xvi-xvii).

Adding credence to this assessment, fact checkers at the Washington Post continue to identify a continuous stream of Trump’s lies and misleading statements, totaling 8,459 from January 2017 through February 3, 2019 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?noredirect=on&utm=.e18c543d91c). Then there is the book titled Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump that evolved out of a conference on the “Presidential Mental Health and Nuclear Weapons” which was “hosted by Tom Steyer at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in February 2018.” All but two of the 25 authors, “writing from their diverse perspectives as psychologists, psychiatrists, foreign policy experts, politicians, former military, historians, and journalists, sound a note of extreme alarm” (p. 10). Here is a quote from the Introduction to the book:

“Some authors, like Steven Buser, David Reiss, and Willian Enyart argue that if Trump were not president, he would not be granted a security clearance or pass a fitness-for-duty evaluation to have handle nuclear weapons because of the disturbing behaviors he displays. While others like Lance Dodes, Gordon Humphrey, Jaqueline West, Philip Zimbarod, Rosemary Sword and I [John Gartner] argue that the president is not only unfit, but deeply, diagnosably, and dangerously psychologically disturbed” (p. 13).

Just one last example. Peter Baker and Michael Tackett pinned a story for The New York Times titled “Trump says his Nuclear Button is Much Bigger Than North Korea’s” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/politics/trump-tweet-north-korea.html). These jouralists capture the abnormal and superficial position of Trump on nuclear weapons, but also how the idea of launching nuclear weapons seems nothing out of the ordinary for Trump, who is well-known for saying “everything is on the table.” Here’s what Baker and Tackett write: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Trump has since had a friendly meeting with Kim Jong Un and came away with the feeling that the North Korean leader had agreed to a process that would eventually lead to denuclearization. Subsequent reports found this understanding of the meeting by Trump to be premature and wrong. Trump and Un will meet again this week in Vietnam to continue trying to come to an agreement that would focus on a process to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons and on the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. These seem to represent rational goals, though the hawks in Trump’s administration and Pentagon officials are assuredly going to keep Trump from giving up too much. It remains to see whether Trump will return to his “fire and fury” rhetoric or manage to reduce the chances of war on the Korean peninsula.

Trump is not alone politically

Much of what we know about Trump is deeply unsettling, but what makes it so extraordinarily troubling is that he has the support overall of the Republican Party, most of those in the top 1 percent of the wealth distribution, many or most mega-corporations along with the great majority of for-profit businesses, at least one-third of the voting population (25-30 percent of whom have incomes under the median income), the increasingly right-wing federal judiciary, and a compliant right-wing segments of the media. Some of this support is of the fellow-traveler variety, involving military contractors and a host of corporate lobbyists who want for their industries less regulation, more government subsidies, lower taxes, opportunities to privatize natural resources, and a supportive trade policy. There are also those, among ardent single-issue voters, who want maximum freedom to own weapons or an end to Roe v Wade. Some are white supremacists. Some want the “wall” Trump promised. Some are against same-sex marriage and tolerate only traditional marriage and heterosexual sexual practices. Perhaps the overwhelming majority of Trump’s supporters are drawn to his slogan to “make America great again” and join him in the belief that we need to maintain U.S. military superiority.

One of Trump’s main bases of support comes from White Evangelicals. Consider their shift in moral standards, as documented by E. J. Dionne, Jr., Norman J. Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann in their book, One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported. Here is what they write. “An October 2016 survey by PRRI asked: ‘Do you think an elected official who commits an immoral act in their private lives can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional lives.’ In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals answered affirmatively, while “in 2016, 72 percent said yes” (One Nation After Trump, p. 165). In the 2016 election, they voted overwhelmingly for Trump. According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey:

“Exit polls [from November 9] show white evangelical voters voted in high numbers for Donald Trump, 80-16 percent, according to exit poll results. That’s the most they have voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004, when they overwhelmingly chose President George W. Bush by a margin of 78-21 percent. Their support for Trump will likely be seen as part of the reason the GOP candidate performed unexpectedly well in Tuesday’s election, according to Five Thirty Eight” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.901bd6702c87).

Whatever their specific interests or patriotic sentiments, all segments of Trump’s multi-faceted base are emboldening Trump and giving him encouragement to do what his ego and impulses tell him to do.

Professor of Law Richard Painter and clinical psychologist Leanne Watt, contributors to the book cited earlier titled Rocket Man…offer a summary of how whacky and dangerous the political situation has become under Trump.

“As the balance of power shifts to the top executive branch, with few or no checks from Congress or, likely, from the Trump cabinet, we believe that the United States is on a path to war that goes beyond occasional strikes in Syria. When presidents decide whether to go to war, the number of people they consult is limited- usually just a few – including the secretary of state and national security adviser. As Donald Trump continues to psychologically dissolve, besieged by unbearable stress and humiliation, it is essential that his inner circle provides a steady and containing environment for the president. By elevating Bolton and Pompeo into his cadre of confidants, we are concerned that Trump is courting disaster, drawing men who exacerbate the darkest elements in his character, rather than containing them” (p. 98).

A militaristic administration in the White House, heightening the risk of war(s)

The Trump and his administration are militaristic. What’s that mean? According to Wikipedia’s conception of the term, it involves four conditions, including (1) the belief or the desire of a government or a people that a state should maintain a strong military capability,” (2) the aim of using “it aggressively to expand national interests and/or values,” (3) “the glorification of the military and of the ideals of a professional military class,” and (4) the “predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarism). The danger of militarism in today’s world is that some countries, including most importantly the United States, have the military capacity to start or engage in wars that are more devastating in their effects than ever in human history – and have leaders who lack the wisdom to identify and pursue non-war alternatives.

Here’s an example. The Whitehouse issued a statement on February 5, 2019 titled “President Donald J. Trump’s America First Vision for Keeping Our Nation Safe is a testament to the militaristic mentality (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trumps-america-first-vision-for-keeping-our-nation-safe.). The hallmark of the statement is that the U.S. will achieve “safety through strength.” It boasts how defense spending under Trump’s presidency has set records, including “a record $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year for funding to face new and evolving threats from hostile powers around the world.” These numbers do not include military-related spending in other parts of the federal budget. A “page” in Wikipedia on the “Military Budget of U.S.” points to expenditures that are not counted in the official military spending numbers.

“…many military-related items… are outside of the Defense Department budget, such as nuclear weapons research, maintenance, cleanup, and production, which are in the Atomic Energy Defense Activities section, Veterans Affairs, the Treasury Department’s payments in pensions to military retirees and widows and their families, interest on debt incurred in past wars, or State Department financing of foreign arms sales and militarily-related development assistance. Neither does it include defense spending that is not military in nature, such as the Department of Homeland Security, counter-terrorism spending by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and intelligence-gathering spending by NSA.”

Even without considering these military-related expenditures that bring “defense” spending above the trillion-dollar mark, the U.S. has outspent other nations of the world by a wide margin for years. According to Wikipedia, “As compared with other countries, the United States spends billions more than its closest competitor, China, and more than the next 5 countries, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and France put together. Military spending is important to the Trump administration and it is unlikely that he has any reason to curb it” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarism).

The war on terrorism

The government’s dubious war on terrorism since 9/11, through FY 2019 (as of November 2018), has provided one of the main justification for the high levels of military spending. David Cole, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, provides an insightful analysis of the hawkish government officials who crafted the rationale for this “war” under the presidency of Georgy W. Bush in his book, Justice at War: The Men and Ideas that Shaped America’s War on Terror. According to another source, the Watson Institute on International and Public Affairs at Brown University, the America’s war on terror has cost the country $5,933 trillion dollars and brought with it little benefit or anything like peace (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar). And the five trillion spent on the war against terrorists is a low estimate, not considering fully the “future obligations for Veterans Medical and Disability FY2020-FY2059.” Here is a summary list of what the Watson Institute’s research has uncovered.

• Over 480,000 have died due to direct war violence, and several times as many indirectly
• Over 244,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting
• 21 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
• The US federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is over $5.9 trillion dollars
• The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad
• Over 6,950 US soldiers have died in the wars.
• We do not know the full extent of how many US service members returning from these wars became injured or ill while deployed.
• Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been reported as required by law, but it is likely that at least 7,800 have been killed.
• 21 million Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, and Syrian people are living as war refugees and internally displaced persons, in grossly inadequate conditions.
• The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries [perhaps 80], vastly expanding the counterror war across the globe.
• The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad.
• The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades with some costs, such as the financial costs of US veterans’ care, not peaking until mid-century.
• US government funding of reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has totaled over $170 billion. Most of those funds have gone towards arming security forces in both countries. Much of the money allocated to humanitarian relief and rebuilding civil society has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
• The cost of the Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria wars totals about $5.9 trillion. This does not include future interest costs on borrowing for the wars, which will add an estimated $8 trillion in the next 40 years.
• The ripple effects on the US economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases.
• Both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to rank extremely low in global studies of political freedom.
• Women in Iraq and Afghanistan are excluded from political power and experience high rates of unemployment and war widowhood.
• Compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the US.

Trump loves the U.S. war machine, as indicated by the increases in the military budget and his desire to see the U.S. military retain its global primacy. And, like previous administrations, Trump’s administration it is justifying the “defense buildup” by identifying alleged threats to U.S. national interests all over the place, but especially from Russia, China, Iran, and perhaps in North Korea, while he supports regime change in Venezuela and militarizing the border with Mexico. However, for the Trump administration and Pentagon chiefs, China is now viewed as the greatest threat to U.S. global hegemony. While the media focus on the trade “war,” and sometimes on the bases the Chinese are building in the South China Sea, “the global nature of the growing conflict between Washington and Beijing has yet to be fully taken in.” Michael Klare provides a concise summary of why this is the case (https://tomdispatch.com/post/176528/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_a_long_war_of_attrition).

“The media and many politicians continue to focus on U.S.-Russian relations, in large part because of revelations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 American presidential election and the ongoing Mueller investigation. Behind the scenes, however, most senior military and foreign policy officials in Washington view China, not Russia, as the country’s principal adversary. In eastern Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, cyberspace, and in the area of nuclear weaponry, Russia does indeed pose a variety of threats to Washington’s goals and desires. Still, as an economically hobbled petro-state, it lacks the kind of might that would allow it to truly challenge this country’s status as the world’s dominant power. China is another story altogether. With its vast economy, growing technological prowess, intercontinental “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, and rapidly modernizing military, an emboldened China could someday match or even exceed U.S. power on a global scale, an outcome American elites are determined to prevent at any cost.”

Klare continues:

“Washington’s fears of a rising China were on full display in January with the release of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a synthesis of the views of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of that ‘community.’ Its conclusion: ‘We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish U.S. influence.’”

There appears to be too little among American leaders of ways in which U.S. and China interests can be accommodated through peaceful diplomacy. In his national bestseller, Destined for War: Can American and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap, Graham Allison considers the historic and geopolitical conflicts that have given rise to the growing tensions between the U.S. and China, and offers “clues for peace,” but worries about whether American democracy has become dysfunctional, with Trump in the White House, “the decline of a public ethic, legalized and institutionalized corruption, a poorly educated and attention-deficit-driven electorate, and a ‘gotcha’ press – all exacerbated by digital devices and platforms that reward sensationalism and degrade deliberation” (p.238). Under these circumstances, the chance that the U.S. will be able to work out peaceful solution with China seem now remote.

The export of arms is booming for US weapons makers

The overseas sales by American arms producers has risen to heights not seen before. Peter Castagno informs us:

“The global arms trade is experiencing its greatest boom since the Cold War, fueled by horrific wars in the Middle East and revitalized power rivalries among China, Russia and the United States. In their most recent report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed a 44 percent increase in arms sales from 2002 to 2017. The United States is the world’s biggest arms exporter by far, holding 34 percent of total market share — a 58 percent lead on Russia, its closest competitor. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. arms sales to foreign governments increased 33 percent, in part due to the Trump administration’s diminished legal restraints on supplying foreign militias” (https://truthout.org/articles/the-arms-trade-is-intensifying-under-trump).

And some of the U.S. weapons deals are facitliated by former public officials in the Trump administration who have left public office to become lobbyists for defense contractors. This revolving door reveals another Trumpian contradiction. “Before entering the White House,” Costagno writes, “Trump asserted his belief in a ‘lifetime restriction’ on top defense officials working for private defense contractors after their public service.”

The militarization of outer space

On Tuesday, February 19, Trump “directed the Department of Defense to begin to form a U.S. Space Force,” as reported by Ledyard King for USA Today (https://www.usatoday.com/news/2019/02/19/space-force-directive/2913033002). The mission of this sixth military branch, separate from the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard, will be “to monitor the heavens and protect the USA from attack” by, as the president put it, the “bad players.” Ledyard notes Trump’s enthusiasm for the space force in one of his tweets: “Space Force all the way!” The initial budget for the program is said to be less than $100 million,” though Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson anticipates the “five-year cost of establishing the new branch at about $13 billion.” The Congress is divided on the idea and will ultimately decide “whether to authorize the creation of a military branch and whether to approve money for the plan.” At present, there seems to be little opposition in Trump’s circles.

And a substantial portion of the public seems to go along with it

There is also considerable support among the general public for the maintenance of a strong military. A recent Pew Research Center’s survey finds that a large majority of Republicans (83%) want a government that defends the country from future terrorist attacks, compared to about half of Democrats (53%). Even more to the point, 65% of Republicans “place top priority on strengthening the military,” fewer than half Democrats say the same (http://www.peoplepress.org/2019/01/24/publics-2019-priorities-economy-health-care-education-and-security-all-near-top-of-list).

Trump and the military on the nuclear weapons front

Trump’s position is that “everything is on the table” when it comes to protecting the United States, and that he, who “knows more than the generals,” will determine when and where the use of nuclear weapons is necessary. His actions as president show a commitment and a cavalier attitude to maintaining and expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. He wants to continue the 30-year nuclear-weapons modernization program started at an initially estimated cost of $1.2 trillion under Obama and rising to an estimated $2 trillion during Trump’s first year. Lawrence Wittner addresses this point and writes: “Thanks to the Trump administration’s plan to upgrade the three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad and build new cruise and ballistic missiles, the estimated cost of the U.S. nuclear buildup rose in February 2018 to $2 trillion” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/11/19/lurching-towards-catastrophe-trump-administration-and-nuclear-weapons).

New Usable Nukes – and more to come

James Carroll reports on one of the new nukes in the modernization process that, he writes, is “the most dangerous weapon ever” to roll “off the nuclear assembly line” (https://truthdig.com/articles/the-most-dangerous-weapon-ever-rolls-off-the-nuclear-assembly-line.).

In January, according to Carroll, “the National Nuclear Security Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) announced the first of a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons had rolled off the assembly line at its Pantex nuclear weapons plant in the panhandle of Texas.” The name given to the warhead is W76-2 and “is designed to be fitted to a submarine-launched Trident missile…” More of the warheads will be produced in coming months.

What makes this weapon the most dangerous ever? It’s a relatively small nuke, carrying the equivalent of five kilotons rather than the 100 kilotons of the warheads it will replace. Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Carroll that “the W76-2 will yield “only” about one third of the devastating power of the weapon that the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.” Carroll reminds us that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed as many 150,000 people and that the new W76-2 could will kill 50,000. The new warheads are referred to as tactical, suggesting that their damage will be limited and will not provoke a larger nuclear war that would be unlimited.

It is the “shrinkage of the power to devastate” that “makes this nuclear weapon potentially the most dangerous ever manufactured,” because it is more likely to be used rather than just being held as a deterrent. The justifying rationale is that such tactical weapons can be used to offset any disadvantage on the battle field or to intimidate with a tactical nuclear strike an enemy, say, China, from attacking U.S. ships in the South China Sea or from forcibly taking over Taiwan. And, to say again, military planners believe that the use of such tactical warheads will not lead to a larger nuclear war. But Carroll fears the production of the W76-2 will set off another nuclear arms race. It does seem to mark the end of a 70-year taboo against nuclear use. Scott Ritter makes this poignant observation: “On Feb. 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty, beginning a 180-day process that, once concluded, will lead to the abandonment of that agreement. Russia soon followed suit. The death of the INF Treaty represents far more than simply the end of an era. It is the end of a process—a mindset—that recognized nuclear weapons for their globe-killing reality and sought their reduction and eventual elimination” (https://truthdig.com/articles/one-minute-to-midnight).

There is opposition to this nuclear policy from a group called “Back from the Brink, as Trump’s military moves hellbent on having the option to intimidate enemies and win wars with tactical nuclear weapons and other military means. The group proposes a counter-policy that entails the following: (1) no first use of nukes, (2) an end to the unchecked launch-authority of the president, (3) no to nuclear hair-triggers, (4) no to endlessly renewing and replacing the nuclear arsenal, and (5) the goal of having nuclear-armed states top producing nuclear warheads on the way to abolishing them altogether. Of course, the Trump administration ignores such proposals.

More Trump on the nuclear front

At one point, Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” (implying the use of nuclear weapons). He has unilaterally withdrawn from the multilateral deal to ensure that Iran does not develop the capacity to build nuclear warheads, even though U.N inspectors have found again and again that Iran has adhered to the treaty’s terms. Other signatories from Europe, Russia, and China want the agreement to continue. The U.S. also continues to avow a “first strike” policy on nuclear weapons. Daniel Ellseberg reasons that “virtually any threat of first use of a nuclear weapon is a terrorist threat.” And: “Any nation making such threats is a terrorist nation. That means the United States and all its allies, including Israel, along with Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea.” Ellsberg proposes, unrealistically under Trump, the U.S. government “should announce decisively that there is no ‘nuclear first-use option on the bargaining table in our dealings with Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, or any other nation, because we as a people and our government recognize that nuclear first use would be a murderous, criminal action, not a ‘legitimate’ option for the United States, Russia, or for any other country under any circumstances” (The Doomsday Machine, pp. 333,334). Unfortunately, this is not going to happen. There is nothing in what Trump or his administration has said or done that indicates they take such a no-first-use option at all seriously.

U.S. withdrawal from an important treaty to limit nuclear warheads

Michael Klare analyzes some of what Trump is doing in an article titled “Trump is Launching a New Terrifying Arms Race” (https://www.thenation.com/article/nuclear-madness- inf).

Klare focuses on the implications of Trump’s decision on February 2, 2018, to withdraw from the International Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia in six months, a treaty that covers nuclear-capable ballistic or cruise missiles that has focused on European targets. As described by Klare, “[o]nce the treaty went into force in 1988, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed 2,692 nuclear delivery systems – the first time an entire class of such weapons had been eliminated.” The publicly-stated reason Trump gave for withdrawing from the treaty was that Russia had violated the accord by deploying a nuclear-capable ground-launched missile, the 9M729, “that Washington insists has a range in excess of 500 kilometers an accusation that Russia denies.” Moscow acknowledged that it had deployed the missile “but says it does not violate INF restrictions.” Russia also has complaints, insisting “that US MI 41 antimissile batteries deployed in Romania…could be used to launch an offensive ballistic-missile attack on Russia.”

Rather than withdrawing from the treaty, Klare submits that negotiations should have continued, coupled with inspections to determine “if both the 9M729 and MK41 do, in fact, violate the INF Treaty; if so, measures could be taken to bring both countries into compliance. This diplomatic route was not taken, Klare thinks, because “administration hawks, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton have no interest in preserving the arms-control agreement but rather seek to embark on an arms race with Russia and China – a dynamic that will take us into dangerous territory not visited since the Cold War.”

The future now becomes more uncertain and a nuclear arms race appears to be in the offing. Here is what Klare thinks.

“It is also vital to remember why such weapons were banned in the first place: They provide an easy bridge from conventional to nuclear war. Should the United States deploy hundreds of ballistic missiles in Europe and Asia aimed at Russian and Chinese territory, Moscow and Beijing would almost certainly expand their nuclear arsenals and could even adopt a launch-on-warming policy. By precipitating a new arms race in intermediate-range weapons, the Trump administration is returning us to the early 1980s, when any military clash between the major powers – intended or not – could rapidly escalate into a thermonuclear conflagration. The only adequate response to this peril, as in that earlier dangerous era [which led to the original INF treaty], is a massive antinuclear mobilization.”

Trump ignores the fact that most of the world’s nations want to ban nuclear weapons

Lawrence Wittner, whose article was cited above, writes that in July 2017, by a vote of 122 to 1, with nine abstention, nations from around the world attending a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York City voted to approve a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.” He continues: “Although this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received little coverage in the mass media, its passage was a momentous event, capping decades of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that, together, have reduced the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals by approximately 80 percent and have limited the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war. The treaty prohibited all ratifying countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.” The Trump administration officially supported the prohibition but abstained when it came time to vote on it, along with eight other nuclear powers. None of these countries have any attention of reducing their present nuclear arsenals. Indeed, they are modernizing them.

Concluding thoughts

The challenge for those of us who oppose Trump and what he stands for requires the emergence of a coalition of progressive and radical movements and a transformation of the Democratic Party – all unified around a comprehensive agenda of structural change, one that espouses a foreign policy dedicated to finding ways to cooperate with other countries, that prioritizes diplomacy over war and military interventions, that implements faithfully the provisions of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, that joins the majority of the nations of the world in a commitment to banning nuclear weapons as well as to committing to the support of development aid to poor countries. For an analysis of such a foreign policy, you might try Jeffrey D. Sachs book, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism.

It’s cold outside but the planet is warming, putting everything at risk

It’s cold outside but the planet is warming, putting everything at risk
Bob Sheak – February 3, 2019

The weather outside in Ohio has been record-breakingly cold at times in January. Bear in mind, though, this is about weather, which is about the local and sometimes regional conditions that exist at given places and times. It can be cold and snowy in some places across the planet, very hot and dry in others, with a huge number of weather variations in other locations. Climate change, the warming of the whole planet, involves a much larger and more encompassing phenomenon that affects and interacts with weather systems everywhere, but that is simultaneously changing vital aspects of the biosphere in ways that undermine the conditions necessary for human life and other forms of life on the planet. The National Geographic encyclopedia defines biosphere as “the parts of the Earth where life exists,” and, continuing, it ‘extends from the deepest root systems of trees, to the dark environment of ocean trenches, to lush rain forests and high mountaintops” (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/biosphere). According to recent UN and NOAA reports, we don’t have much time to save the biosphere, including humanity, from the massive and escalating “human” assaults that are occurring.

Weather versus Climate

Joseph Romm, one of the country’s most influential communicators on climate science and solutions,” provides an oft-cited distinction between weather and climate in his book Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. He writes: “The weather is the set of atmospheric conditions you experience at a specific time and place. It is hot or cold? Is it rainy or dry? Is it sunny or cloudy? The climate is the statistical average of these weather conditions over a long period of time, typically decades. Is it a tropic climate or a polar climate? Is it a rainforest or a desert?” (p. 31). This distinction is generally useful, but to clarify, the forces that are propelling climate change are affecting local community, regions, countries, and the whole planet.
Authoritative measures that indicate global warming is taking place and rising typically an average of measures taken around the entire planet. Then there are anomalies, or climate phenomenon that are not fully understood. The cold spell that is griped the Midwest and Northeast in January is the result of frigid air coming from a “polar vortex” in the north pole. The National Weather Service describes the vortex as follows:

“The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term ‘vortex’ refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream…. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States” (https://www.weather.gov/safety/cold-polar-vortex).

It is not clear to me how – or whether – the polar vortex is influenced by or interacts with climate change, that is, what causes it to expand at times. But the existence of the polar vortex is another indication of how complex the earth’s climate is. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the climate is changing – and growing warmer – in ways that are harmful to life on the planet. This is confirmed by the nearly 100 percent agreement among scientists who study the subject and by the research they conduct. One recent indication of this virtually universal agreement appeared in an article published in the journal Bioscience in December 2017(https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229). The highlight of the article is that 15,364 scientists from 184 countries signed a letter giving “notice” that humanity does not have much time to curtail and reverse accelerating climate change.

The Trend: More hot periods than cold ones

As suggested, the changing climate is producing more and more “extreme weather events.” Romm writes: “while we will continue to have record-setting cold temperatures in places, the ratio of record-setting hot days to record-setting cold days will grow over time, which has been measured” (p. 32). Climate Nexus tracks all this and substantiates Romm’s contention as follows: “Record-breaking high temperatures are now outnumbering record lows by an average decadal ratio of 2:1. Record highs are occurring more often than record lows due to climate change.” And: “In a stable climate, the ratio of new record highs to new record lows is approximately even. However in our warming climate, record highs have begun to outpace record lows, with the imbalance growing for the past three decades. This trend is one of the clearest signals of climate change that we experience directly.”

Other research findings come to similar conclusions. A study published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres shows that “extreme heat events both in the summer and in the winter are increasing across the U.S. and Canada, while extreme cold events in summer and winter are declining,” so that “there are more extremely hot days during the summer as well as more days that are considered extremely hot for the time of year, like abnormally warm days in the winter” (https://phys.org/news/2018-11-extreme-summer-winter.html). And research by Richard Davy published in the same journal finds that “[o]bservations from the last fifty years have shown that the nights have been warming much faster than the days. Analysis of the causes of this more rapid warming at night shows that this is likely to continue in the coming decades” (https://phys.org/news/2016-03-nights-warmer-faster-days.html)

The Greenhouse gas effect

Romm describes this physical phenomenon as follows. “The sun pours out intense amounts of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including ultraviolet and infrared…. Of the solar energy hitting the top of the atmosphere, one third is reflected back into space – by the atmosphere itself and the Earth’s surface (land, ocean, and ice). The rest is absorbed, mostly by the Earth, especially our oceans. This process heats up the planet.”

Romm continues his explanation, pointing out that certain types of infrared radiation are trapped in earth’s atmosphere by naturally occurring atmospheric gases. He refers to them as greenhouse gases, “including water, methane (CH4), and carbon dioxide (CO2),” and others [e.g., nitrous oxide], which “act as a partial blanket that helps keep the planet as much as 60 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it otherwise would be, which is ideal for humans.” However, various human activities, particularly those involving the use of fossil fuels, have put huge volumes of additional greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere.
[See report by The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions for a full list of greenhouse gases and how much they each contribute to climate change. Carbon dioxide is by far the most prevalent of these gases (https://www.c2es.org/content/main-greenhouse-gases).]
The numbers are striking. According to Romm,

“At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm). Since then, humankind has been pouring billions of tons of extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing more and more heat to be trapped. The main human-caused greenhouse gas is CO2, and the rate of growth of human-caused CO2 emissions has been accelerating. Emissions today [2012] are six times than they were in 1950” – and are now 400 parts per million” (pp. 1-2)

The National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA) provides some further details on the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere and how the information is collected, as follows:

“Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice enable us to step back in time and see what Earth’s atmosphere, and climate, were like in the distant past. They tell us that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years [other estimates extend back further]. During ice ages, CO2 levels were around 200 parts per million (ppm), and during the warmer interglacial periods, they hovered around 280 ppm (see fluctuations in the graph [go to source for this]). In 2013, CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air” (https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/graphic-the-relentless-rise-of-carbon-dioxide).

In his just published book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, the intrepid climate chronicler Dahr Jamail refers to even more stark numbers, writing: “The earth has not seen current atmospheric CO2 levels since the Pliocene, some 3 million years ago.” Furthermore, he writes: “Our planet is rapidly changing, and what we are witnessing is unlike anything that has occurred in human, or even geologic history.” Additionally:

“Evidence shows that greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth to warm ten times faster than it should, and the ramifications of this are being felt, quite literally, throughout the entire biosphere.” The signs are readily observable and have been documented by reams of scientific research. Here are some examples Jamail refers to.

“Oceans are warming at unprecedented rates, droughts and wildfires of increasing severity and frequency are altering forests around the globe, and the Earth’s cryosphere – the parts of the earth so cold that water is frozen into ice or snow – is melting at an accelerating rate. The subsea permafrost in the Arctic is thawing, and we could experience a methane ‘burp’ of previously trapped gas at any moment, causing the equivalent of several times the total amount of CO2 humans have emitted to be released into the atmosphere.”

With respect to ice melting, there is further ominous evidence. “In North America, 70 percent of the glaciers in western Canada are projected to be gone by 2100. Montana’s Glacier National Park will most likely not have an active glacier by 2030. The Matanuska Glacier’s ancient ice is, by now, rapidly vanishing. Dramatic changes are occurring even in the planet’s highest and coldest places. Even Mount Everest…is transforming, as thousands of glaciers across the Himalayas will likely shrink by up to 99 percent by 2100” (p. 6).

Among other such climate-relevant facts, Jamail notes, “Seventeen of the eighteen hottest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2001” (pp. 4-5).

In an article published in the New Scientist, Michael Le Page reports on a new forecast by Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK. According to Bett’s calculations, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely to rise by 2.8 parts per million to 411 ppm in 2019 (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2191881-carbon-dioxide-levels-will-soar-past-the-410-ppm-milestone-in-2019). The rate of accumulation has risen to this level from “less that 1 ppm a year in the 1950s.” The long-term trend is “remorselessly clear.”

The fossil-fuel dependence

The extraordinary buildup of greenhouse gases stems largely from the combustion of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). We have a society, as do other “modern” societies, that depends on fossil fuels as the primary energy sources. The great majority of us depend on electricity from power plants that burn mostly coal and gas to heat and cool our homes and businesses, on gasoline to fuel the cars we drive or busses we ride, on fossil fuels to make travel and trade between countries by air or sea feasible, on fossil fuels to keep industries producing and distributing the seemingly endless goods and services that we buy. There is more. It takes energy to extract the minerals that are essential for many of the products that industry turns out. It takes oil and gas to fuel the machinery and manufacture the fertilizers and herbicides for most of the farms that produce our food. There are energy-producing alternatives in the form of solar, wind, and geothermal energy and they are growing as a percentage of U.S. energy use. There is a growing organic farm sector as well. However, the evidence indicates renewables and organic farming are not growing fast enough to replace fossil fuels much or lower greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides short summary reports on energy. Here is one point from the report that’s relevant to the present discussion.

“The United States gets 81% of its total energy from oil, coal, and natural gas, all of which are fossil fuels. We depend on those fuels to heat our homes, run our vehicles, power industry and manufacturing, and provide us with electricity. Eventually, the degree to which we depend on fossil fuels will have to decline as the planet’s known supplies diminish, the difficulty and cost of tapping remaining reserves increase, and the effect of their continued use on our planet grows more critical. But shifting to new energy sources will take time” (http://needtoknow.nas.edu/energy/energy-sources/fossil-fuels).

In an article published in Washington Post, journalists Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney remind us:

“In October [2018], a top U.N.-back scientific panel found that nations have barely a decade to take ‘unprecedented’ actions and cut their emissions in half by 2030 to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. The panel’s report found ‘no documented historic precedent’ for the rapid changes to the infrastructure of society that would be needed to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above industrial levels” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/12/05/we-are-in-trouble-global-emissions-reched-new-record-high/?utm_term=6aeb414fca63).

Thus far, however, there is too little progress toward meeting this goal or even the higher one of 2.0 degrees. In an article published in The Guardian, Fiona Harvey reports on research that finds “[r]emoving coal from the global energy mix is taking too long, too many forests are still being destroyed, and fossil fuel subsidies are ongoing despite their distorting effect on the market” (https://theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/22/analysis-warns-lack-progress-2020-global-emissions-target). Analysis by the World Resource Institute discloses, according to Harvey, that there is “insufficient progress in agriculture to stop harmful practices that increase carbon dioxide production, and heavy industry is not doing enough to use energy more efficiently.” Consequently, global greenhouse gas emissions are likely to go on rising into the next decades beyond the 1.5C or 2C warming thresholds “that scientists have identified as key to the future safety of the planet.” Harvey refers to some positive developments in the increased use of renewable energy, in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, and in some efforts from the public and private sector. Still not enough.

Caught in a climate quagmire

As the greenhouse blanket thickens in the atmosphere, temperatures rise, and this leads to all sorts of immediate and long-term, some likely to be permanent, climate disruptions and catastrophes. Tom Engelhardt, author and creator of the website TomDispatch, offers the following summary of what we have wrought in an essay titled “Living on a Quagmire Planet: This Could Get a Lot Uglier” (https://counterpunch.org/2019/01/09/living-on-a-quagmire-planet-this-could-get-a-lot-uglier).

“In case you haven’t instantly guessed — and I suspect you have — I’m thinking about what’s happening to the place known to its English-speaking inhabitants as Earth. It no longer takes a scientist or a probing intelligence to know that the planet that welcomed humanity all these thousands of years has begun to appear a good deal less gracious thanks to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By now, no matter where you live, you should know the litany well enough, including (just to start down a long list): temperatures that are soaring and only promise to rise yet more; a record melting of Arctic ice; a record heating of ocean waters; ever fiercer storms; ever fiercer wildfires(and ever longer fire seasons); rising sea levels that promise to begin drowning coastal cities sometime later this century; the coming of mega-droughts and devastating heat waves (that by 2100 may, for instance, make the now heavily populated North China plain uninhabitable).

“Nor do you have to be a scientist these days to draw a few obvious conclusions about trends on a planet where the last four years are the hottest on record and 20 of the last 22 years qualify as the warmest yet. And keep in mind that most of this was already clear enough at the moment in planetary history when a near-majority of Americans elected as president an ardent climate-change denier, as were so many in the party of which he became the orange-haired face. And also keep in mind that the very term climate-change denier no longer seems faintly apt as a description for him, ‘his’ party, or the crew he’s put in control of the government. Instead, they are proving to be the most enthusiastic group of climate-change aiders and abettors imaginable.

“In other words, the administration heading the country that, historically, has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases is now in the business — from leaving the Paris climate accord to opening the way for methane gas releases, from expanding offshore drilling to encouraging Arctic drilling, from freeing coal plants to release more mercury into the atmosphere to rejecting its own climate-change study — of doing more of the same until the end of time. And that’s certainly a testament to something. Ultimately, though, what it’s doing may be less important than what it isn’t doing. On a planet on which, according to the latest U.N. report, there are only perhaps a dozen years left to keep the long-term global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees centigrade, the Trump administration is wasting time in the worst way imaginable.”

There is so much to say about the increasingly destructive effects of climate change. But, given the importance of immigration in today’s politics, it is worth noting that the disruptive and catastrophic changes accompanying climate change are a factor – and a growing one – in driving people off their land and out of their communities. I discussed this in an earlier post on July 12, 2018 titled “Trump’s legally questionable, ill-advised, and cruel attacks on refugees.” In an article for Inside Climate News, Neela Banerjee offers the following information from the International Organization for Migration relevant to this issue. (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19012019/migration-climate-change-trump-state-department-guidance-diplomats-gao-report).

“…the IOM found that since 2008, an average of 25.3 million people have been newly displaced annually, the vast majority due to disasters rather than violence. In 2016, 97 percent of people fled their homes because of “disasters triggered by climate and weather-related hazards,” the IOM said.

“In the U.S., the national security apparatus has described climate change for years as a “threat multiplier”—the extra pressure that could destabilize countries where resources such as water and arable land are limited and governance is weak. In a 2015 report to Congress, the Pentagon pointed to the Syrian civil war as an example of how climate change can aggravate the fragility of a nation already beset by tensions and unpopular leaders.
“Researchers are now looking into how drought and higher temperatures fueled by climate change might be driving the migration of thousands of people from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua northward to Mexico and the United States. The migration has become a political flashpoint in the U.S., as President Trump’s insistence on funding for a controversial border wall to deter migrants has led to the longest government shutdown in American history.”
Trump and his right-wing allies use their power to stymie any efforts to deal with climate change

Richard North Patterson brings our attention to how Trump and his allies, especially the Republican Party, are using their power to undermine or stop governmental efforts to address climate change (https://huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-trumps-climate-change_us_5c3f9be1e4b04e4f74). Patterson describes their behavior as immoral, that is, they intentionally put their personal and political interests ahead of what are the all too obvious disasters stemming from, in this case, climate change. For one thing, they ignore “last year’s inventory” of climate-related catastrophes:

“Heat waves killed people from Montreal to Karachi to Tokoyo, drought hit the Horn of Africa, the largest and deadliest wildfires in the state’s history swept California, another set of wildfires made the air in Portland worse than in Beijing, and two lethal hurricanes hit the East Coast within a month. Ocean temperatures are rising much faster than previously thought, destroying marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and intensifying hurricanes.”

They ignore as well, that the “Earth’s five warmest years on record have occurred since 2010” and “dismiss the scientific consensus that humans have played a critical role” and are warning that “we are running out of time to avoid the catastrophic” or the proliferating catastrophic events linked to climate change. We are facing increased droughts and changing rainfall patterns that are making “it harder to plant and harvest crops and harder for crops to survive.” And: “The scarcity of drinking water will increase the already intensifying competition for water, and the resultant increases “in mass migration, conflict and a breakdown in overburdened health care systems.”

Patterson identifies the specific aspects of the immorality Trump and the Republican Party embody. They don’t care about “anyone beyond” themselves, their families, and their friends. The don’t think it’s important to protect future generations. They don’t feel any obligation to “help – or refrain from harming – people.” They don’t care that “America is a principal driver of climate change.” The put their “personal profit and convenience above the survival of our planet.” They dismiss or ignore the scientific consensus on climate change and believe what they wish to believe. They do not feel obliged to be a steward for a sustainable environment. In other words, in extreme ways, they support the neoliberal policies that have been part and parcel of the Republican and even mainstream political discourse since at least the Reagan years, policies that buttress corporate power through lower taxes, deregulation, privatization of government programs, massive government subsidies for fossil fuels, no effective legal limits on political contributions, and so on.

The immorality is also reflected in how Trump “seeded his administration with corporate lobbyists bent on gutting strictures on polluters.” How so? “Notably, his initial appointees to run the EPA and Interior – Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke…combined environmental despoliation with personal corruption.” Their mission was to “dismantle environmental protection, suppress scientific reality and portray environmentalists and scientists as ultraliberal hysterics indifferent to American jobs.” When asked about “his own government’s comprehensive National Climate Assessment, Trump said, ‘I don’t believe it.” He radically weakened “major efforts to date against man-made global warming: rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and power plants.” He “jettisoned Obama’s Clean Power Plan, loosened fuel economy standards, diminished restrictions on methane emissions and terminated Obama’s plan to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons – powerful heat-trapping gases – in air conditioners and refrigerators.”

With all that has transpired, Patterson still believes that there is time to stop and reverse the class-biased, environmentally destructive policies of Trump and the Republican Party. There is time, he maintains, to educate and marshal people to elect representatives to government who would initiate “a transition to clean energy” and to change their individual lives in environmentally-beneficial ways. And he sees the proposal for a Green New Deal going in the right direction, as it proposes that “by 2030, we generate all electricity from renewable sources, build a national energy-efficient smart grid, upgrade our homes and workplaces for energy efficiency, transition our industries away from fossil fuels and create millions of jobs to help effectuate these transformations.”

Where does all this leave us here in the U.S.?

Amidst all the bad news, there are positive developments, as the previous paragraph suggests. Additionally, those who are convinced by the scientific evidence that there is increasingly dangerous and accelerating climate change represent a majority of the population. The big question is whether these forces will be able to combat and turn back the special interests, most prominently reflected in corporate power and rogue administrations like that of Trump’s. In the following paragraphs, I refer to examples of those who are acting or have taken positions that acknowledge and accept the scientific evidence on climate change. This is undoubtedly good, but it doesn’t mean that they will be able to coalesce and press ahead on a strong energy policy that is able to win elections.

The list includes 97 percent or so of all climate scientists, environmentalists representing many diverse orientations, most Democrats in elected office, some minor political parties such as the U.S. Green Party, and hundreds of mayors and city councils that have made commitments to clean energy.

Recent polls find also that a large majority of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, that it is harmful, and that it is the result of human activities. Oliver Milman reports on a Yale University climate communication poll that found “72% of polled Americans now say global warming is personally important to them,” the highest level since Yale started to ask this question in 2008. And “73% of Americans now say global warming is happening, outnumbering those who don’t by five to one.” A smaller percentage, but still a majority of 62% attribute the primary cause of the problem to human activities. And: About two-thirds of Americans believe that global warming is influencing the weather, in the wake of a string of deadly extreme events in the US. About half say the disastrous wildfires in California and Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which flattened parts of North Carolina and Florida, were worsened because of rising global temperatures” (https://theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/22/climate-change-concern-americans-poll).

Even the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies and military chiefs of staff recognize the dire impacts of unfolding climate change. Neela Banerjee reports for Inside Climate News on U.S. intelligence officials, including the National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and directors of the FBI, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency that climate change poses multiple threats to the world. She also refers to recent concerns expressed by the Pentagon (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/30102019/worldwide-threat-assessment-climate-change-intelligence-agencies-national-security).
Banerjee writes: “The nation’s intelligence community warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change and other kinds of environmental degradation pose risks to global stability because they are ‘likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.’ The threat assessment refers to:

“Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security,” said the report, which represents the consensus view among top intelligence officials. “Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”

Banerjee also notes that “In just the past two weeks, the Pentagon, in a report to Congress, described extreme weather and climate risks to dozens of critical military installations” and that “Urban coastal areas of South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Western Hemisphere that could be battered by extreme weather and aggravated by rising sea levels.” And: “It says ‘damage to communication, energy, and transportation infrastructure could affect low-lying military bases, inflict economic costs, and cause human displacement and loss of life,’ noting that “last year, Hurricane Michael inflicted an estimated $5 billion in damage on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.”

In an article for Inside Climate News, Nicholas Kusnetz provides further evidence of the military’s concern with climate (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/18012019/military-bases-climate-change-risks-wildfires-flooding-defense-department-report-congress). He writes:
“A new Department of Defense report lists climate change vulnerabilities at 79 key military facilities, including risks from wildfires and severe weather, like this 2018 storm that damaged buildings and caused flooding at an Air Force base in Texas. Credit: Airman 1st Class Marco A. Gomez/U.S. Air Force
A new Pentagon report identifies significant risks from climate change at scores of military bases and says the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the looming threat.”

The Challenges in the United States

Can the diverse interests reflected in the previous section be reconciled in ways that produce a unified political force to reduce, stop and/or reverse climate change and do so before it is too late. This would mean a force strong enough to displace the politically the right-wing and corporate forces that now have so much control over the government and other institutional sectors of the society. But the key is political. As it stands now, there is no unified political force capable of taking control of the government in ways that would truly solve the climate crisis. There are diverse views – and interests – on how to proceed, even within the Democratic Party. Some favor incremental changes that do not alter the basic institutional arrangements of power and wealth (e.g., the Pentagon, intelligence agencies), while others want comprehensive change (e.g., those who call for a green new deal and the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels) or incremental change (e.g., a carbon tax).

Dahr Jamail, has devoted much of his journalistic career to helping to keep us updated on the accumulating research that documents the reality of “anthropomorphic climate disruption.” His articles have been published online at Truthdig for years. Along the way, he has also had to cope with the emotional despair of what he has seen and learned. While he has lost hope that we will be able to curtail our fossil-fuel, commodified, and profit-based economy, he has not given up on the active life he has had. Jamail writes this at the end of a recent article that captures his viewpoint.

“For me, these days, it all begins and end with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history.

“Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear” (https://commondreams.org/views/2019/01/15/we-cant-undo-planet-crisis).

He brings together in his new book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, years of experience and knowledge from reading scientific, environmental, and governmental reports, journalistic accounts, combined with interviews with experts and local and indigenous people as he travels around the world to see for himself the effects of anthropogenic climate disruption. Jamail describes how ecosystems in the oceans, on mountaintops, in coastal cities (Miami, Mumbai), in towns in the Alaskan northwest, in the Amazon, in whole countries (e.g., Bangladesh), in forests, and all around the planet are being devastatingly altered by rising temperatures. Here’s a paragraph from the book that captures just one aspect of the predicament in which we humans find ourselves.

“Renown climate scientist James Hansen and some esteemed colleagues ‘published a study showing that even if global temperatures were kept with 2degees Celsius of preindustrial baseline levels, unstoppable melting of the Antarctic and in Greenland is already on track to raise sea levels by as much as three meters by just 2050.” Jamail cites other evidence on sea level rise, showing that the low-lying Mekong Delta in Vietnam is less than two meters above sea level. “At least 30 million people in Bangladesh along with be displaced by a one-meter rise in sea levels.” There is more. “One study shows that sea level rise will expose millions around the world to river flooding, particularly in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Central Europe,” while “the number of people in Asia alone impact by river flooding is projected to increase from 70 million to 156 million by 2040.”

Jamail’s courageous quest for the truth may serve as an example to strengthen and legitimate the resolve of others who are engaged in more politically direct paths than he? In the meantime, don’t let the frigid weather distract you from the realty of climate change and how too many of our elected “leaders” are leading us up a path of no return.

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The Case Against Trump’s Wall and Shutdown

The Case Against Trump’s Wall and Shutdown
Bob Sheak – January 16, 2019

Trump and his allies view virtually all migrants crossing the US-Mexico border as a danger to U.S. security, a potential burden for American taxpayers, a threat to US workers, and disproportionately filled with terrorists, law-breakers and drug dealers. The most authoritative evidence offers little support for such views. Nevertheless, dismissive of such evidence, Trump wants to reduce drastically the number of migrants from entering the country. Thus, even though the policy violates international migration law, Trump wants to make it harder for those who are seeking asylum, denying or making it difficult for those who are fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries to relocate in the U.S.

Trump has promoted the idea at least since his presidential campaign began in 2015 that the only way to reduce the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border effectively is to build a 1,000-mile wall across the 2000-mile border or, in a recent version, across 234 miles of the border. This was a major theme of his presidential campaign, and, along with his general anti-immigration agenda and “American First” rhetoric, it won him the votes and loyalty of tens of millions of Americans, right-wing Republicans, and the right-wing media. But opposition to his wall from Democrats in the Congress has stopped any plan for a wall from getting the necessary congressional approval that would give the president the funding for the wall. Trump’s response has been to shut down vital federal government agencies, causing 800,000 federal employees to be locked out of work or, if considered “essential, to work without pay, with millions of Americans affected by the consequent loss of government services. This has led to the longest shutdown in US history and will end up being the costliest.

My general argument is that Trump and the Republicans in the Senate and House are the principal sources of the dual-crisis that currently afflicts the country, that is, the humanitarian crisis at the border and the economic devastation caused by the shutdown. I present 8 arguments to make the case.

First argument- The humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by Trump’s policy

Under Trump, a zero-tolerance policy remains in effect, the goal of which is to have border officials, supported with technology and a wall, prevent as many migrants from crossing from Mexico into the US as they can. Trump’s policy is aimed at all migrants, making it extremely difficult even for those who have the legal right to asylum. It’s being accomplished by ensuring there are too few government officials at the 48 border crossings and 330 ports of entry to process the asylum requests and too few judges and court staff to consider them(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mexico%E2%80%93United_States_border_crossings.)

The method is referred to in a report by New York Times journalists Manny Fernandez, Caitlin Dickerson and Paulina Villegas. It is designed to prevent “migrants from applying for asylum anywhere but at legal border crossings, and then [limiting] the number of migrants it would process each day at those border stations” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/04/us/mexico-wall-policy-trump.html). After being given a number, they are told to be available when their number is called, a process called “metering,” or they are permitted to enter the country but are detained, sometimes for months in unsafe, substandard detention facilities, until the immigration courts can find the time and resources to consider their cases.

More and more migrants are entering illegally and then turning themselves into border authorities. Sometimes this occurs after they have been denied entry at official border crossings and sometimes after crossing the border illegally. Either way, they will at least for a time be detained on the US-side of the border and their hope of being able to stay in the US is kept alive, however unlikely it is.

Once in the U.S., whether legally or not, they are then kept in government or privately run “migrant shelters” or detention facilities, sometimes near the border, sometimes far removed from the border. This situation, according to Fernandez and her colleagues, has resulted in a “capacity problem” in the US (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/04/us/mexico-wall-policy-trump.html). The facilities managed by government immigration and enforcement services alone has seen the number of detainees reach its highest point ever, “with an average daily population of 45,200 single adults and family units.” In response, border officials are simply dropping off some migrants at bus stations. They write: “About 600 migrants were dropped off with no advance planning in El Paso during the last full week in December.” And: “Similar releases have happened in recent days and weeks in Arizona and California.”

Some of these migrants may find shelters operated by nonprofit organizations. According to the article by Fernandez and her colleagues, there is a shelter network in El Paso run by the nonprofit Annunciation House, which “is receiving roughly 200 new migrants a day, the same number it saw in an entire week only a year ago.” They describe what they saw at one shelter, focusing on a family of four, a mother and three daughters aged 10, 9, and 6.

“The girls’ mother, Nelcy, 28, said her daughters got sick not during the long journey to the border in the back of a pickup truck, but during the twelve days they spent at two crowded government detention facilities before arriving at the privately-run shelter in Texas. ‘It was very cold, especially for the children,’ said Nelcy, who would only be identified by her first name. ‘My children got sick. They gave us aluminum blankets, but it wasn’t enough.”

For those who are not able to cross the border, the situation is also often one of growing desperation. According to Fernandez et al, in Tiuana, private shelters managed by local Christian and Catholic groups are near capacity, pushing new migrants into tent cities and improvised shelters that lack proper sanitation.” Recently, municipal leaders in Tiuana “opened an improvised shelter at the Benito Juarez Sports Complex that turned…into a ‘Central American ghetto, with about 6,000 people crowded into a space for 2,000. As time passes, many make repeated attempts to enter the US illegally.

This is the humanitarian crisis to which both Republicans and Democrats refer. Trump and the Republican in Congress blame the Democrats for not strengthening border security and for making it too easy for migrants to cross the border. Word gets out, they say, and others are motivated by the hope they might also be able to enter the U.S. They also blame migrant parents who dare to bring their children on the arduous and dangerous journey from Central American and other places. Democrats blame Trump’s zero-tolerance and anti-immigrant policies for this humanitarian crisis and want to keep the border open to those who are fleeing violence, oppression and poverty, perhaps reverting to the policy under Obama’s administration of releasing migrants who were considered safe and likely to appear in court in order to make room for others who were a higher priority for detention.” One thing is clear, the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated while Trump and the Republicans have controlled the US government. A resolution to the problem will require more resources on both sides of the border to humanely and justly deal with migrants, a timely decision on asylum seekers, and a foreign policy that is directed at changing rather than causing and reinforcing the conditions that spur migration in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Second argument – To advance their border policy, Trump and his supporters lie about the threats posed by the migrants

Trump claims that the situation at the border poses a humanitarian and national security emergency and the way to solve it is with a concrete or steel wall on some parts of the roughly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. This is doubtful. And the claim that there are thousands of terrorists, criminals, rapists, free-loader coming across the border is disputed by the evidence.

Brian Tashman, political researcher and strategist for the ACLU, identifies the “biggest border lies” associated with the administration’s characterization of the situation on the southern border (https://www.aclu/org/blog/immigrants/rights/look-trumps-biggest-border-lies).

Tashman’s central contention is that Trump’s border policy “is driven not by facts but by his own nativist agenda and political obsession with building a wall.” I refer here to both Tashman’s examples and relevant evidence from other sources.

Lie 1: Border crossings are at or near an all-time high.

Tashman cites the Border Patrol’s own statistics that “show that the number of migrants apprehended at the border last year was the fifth lowest total since 1973,” that is, in the last 45 years. He adds: “While the Trump administration has repeatedly cited increased migration from Central America as a national security-based justification for the wall, a majority of these migrants are families and unaccompanied children who voluntarily present themselves to immigration authorities.” They are typically not violent male adults or gang members

Other data, cited by Claire Felter and Daniele Renwick in an article for The Council on Foreign Relations, comes from the Customs and Border Protection agencies, which documents that “the number of people ‘apprehended or stopped at the southern border’ in 2017 dropped by 26 percent from 2016, though [my emphasis] ‘Central American asylum seekers, many of whom are minors who have fled violence in their home countries, make up a growing share of those who cross the U.S.-Mexico border’”(https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-immigration-debate-0). Thus, overall migration to the southern border is down.

At the same time there are a rising number of unaccompanied children and families from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador traveling to the border, most of them seek entry through official border crossings, at least initially. As pointed out in the “first argument,” some are made to wait on the Mexico-side of the border before being permitted to enter the country. According to the reporting from the border areas by Angelo Guisado, they are destitute, without resources, and with young children and many fall prey to cartels and are regularly assaulted and even killed (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/11/trump-asylum-policy-entrapment.html). Others are allowed into the country and detained while awaiting their turn in court and a final decision on their status. Some cross the border illegally and immediately turn themselves over to border security officials so that they will be detained on the US-side of the border. Those who end up in the US typically end up in overcrowded, under-staffed, unhealthy detention facilities or tent cities run by the government or private companies. Other are put on buses in cities on the US-side of the border and dropped off to fend for themselves. And some

Lie 2: Terrorists are entering the country through the southern border, creating a national security crisis.

Tashman: “Many of the migrants at our southern border are refugees from violence with a right to apply for asylum in the United States. Many are families with young children or children alone. There is no evidence that any terrorist group is sending people through Central America.” Tashman continues: “The Justice Department confirmed to NBC News that “no immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.”

The New York Times published an article by the Associated Press (AP) that did a “fact check” on “Trump’s Mythical Terrorist Tide from Mexico” (https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/01/07/us/politics/ap-us-trump-terrorism-fact-check.html). The AP article refers, first, to a State Department report issued in September 2018, that found “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.” Second, “State Department reports on terrorism have expressed more concern about Canada, which unlike Mexico has been home to ‘violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida and their affiliates and adherents.’” The article adds: “By far the majority of people who arouse concern try to enter by air,” not through the southwest border.

Tim Lau, who works for the Brennan Center for Justice, refers to another report released by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security in January 2018. This report hyped the dubious notion that terrorism is committed by immigrants [and Muslims], while “overlooking a bigger threat: terrorist violence from the [domestically rooted] far right” (https://commondreams.org/news/2019/01/09/flawed-terrorism-report-shows-administration-skewed-priorities). The report “contained bad data and misleading assertions and suffered from a lack of objectivity.” Another report released by the Brennan Center for Justice in October 2018 “found that relative to ‘international’ terrorist acts committed by Muslims, the Justice Department has severely under-emphasizes domestic terrorism as a national security threat, sometimes even categorizing it as ‘hate crimes’ or ‘civil rights violations,’ rather than terrorism at all.”

NBC News reported that only six non-Americans on the terror watch list were stopped on the border with Mexico in the first six months of fiscal year 2018, compared to 41 non-Americans who were stopped on the border with Canada (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/only-six-immigrants-terrorism-database-stopped-cbp-southern-border-fist-n955861).

Lie 3: The wall would stop gang members.

Tashman challenges this contention by the White House, pointing out: “The Trump administration has claimed that a wall is needed in order to stop gang members from coming into the U.S., but many of these migrants are in fact fleeing gang violence and forced gang recruitment in their home countries. We have also seen a pattern where government officials have wrongly labeled young migrants as gang members with false and unsubstantiated claims, hyping the threat of groups like MS-13 and threatening the rights of innocent young people.” Border official have distorted, and invented numbers of alleged gang members apprehended.

Tashman links to a report by Philip Bump that appeared in The Washington Post on January 4, 2018 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/01/04/administration-is-using-heavily-inflated-numbers-argue-border-wall/?utm_term=.b322813a0318).

Bump’s main argument is that “The administration is using heavily inflated numbers to argue for a border wall.” He quotes Kirstjin Nielson, Secretary of Homeland Security, who said there were 6,000 gang members apprehended by U.S. authorities in 2017. But only 1,019 were apprehended at the southwest border and only about 800 had crossed the border illegally.

Lie 4: The wall would stop drugs from pouring in through the border.

“The president likes to suggest,” Tashman writes, “that construction of a border wall will help bring an end to drug addiction problems in America.” But the evidence indicates that even a wall across the whole 2,000-mile border would have little such effect. Why? Referring to the best evidence, Tashman writes: “the clear majority of illegal drugs, including opioids, enter through legal ports of entry, and a wall would have no impact on the use of passenger vehicles, boats, planes, and tractor trailers that are primarily used to smuggle drugs.” You can see a detailed presentation of this evidence at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/04/25/the-1-reason-why-trumps-wall-wont-fix-the-drug-problem/?utm_term=ac1802fc13c0).

Lie 5: We need a new wall.

Tashman refers to Trump’s plan for a 1,000-mile long wall (which Trump has since modified). Tashman maintains there Trump’s wall would not improve border security. He notes, first, that there are already 650 miles of “existing border barriers.” Since 2017, “Congress has already approved almost $2 billion to fortify existing border barriers.” However, the barriers are not as high or of the right material (concrete) as Trump has insisted his wall must be. A study by the Government Accountability Office “found that Trump’s ill-conceived wall plan would waste billions of dollars and might ‘cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected” (https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/693488.pdf).”

There is also research that finds it is “unlikely that new barriers will reduce migration,” which is the basic point of Trump’s wall. In a study of the results of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, passed on a bi-partisan vote during the Bush administration, “Stanford and Dartmouth economists found that the addition of hundreds of miles of border barriers… barely had any effect on migration (http://stanford.edu/~ExternalFiles/ADM%20-%20Border%20-%20Executive%20Summary.pdf). Tashman also refers to a recent report by the ACLU titled ‘Death, Damage, and Failure,” which details the harms resulting from border walls” (https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-border-rights-center-and-partners-release-report-devastating-impact-trumps-border-wall). Here are the main findings:

• Border walls do not make the U.S. safer or significantly reduce smuggling or immigration.
• Border walls continue to cause even more tremendous environmental devastation.
• Border walls have inflicted serious damage upon border communities and their economies.
• Border walls contribute to the ongoing humanitarian crisis of migrant deaths as they push migrants into more remote desert areas.

Third argument: Trump underestimates the costs and construction challenges of building his wall

Trump and his advisers are particularly facile in their suggestion that the construction of the wall will be easy to build. Todd Frankel has an article in The Washington Post that suggests the opposite (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/build-the-wall-it-could-take-at-least-10-years-even-with-10000-workers/2019/01/09/62d5eaae-1376-11e9-803c-4ef28312c869_story.html).

He writes that if we built the 1,000-mile long wall that Trump really wants, “It would take an estimated 10,000 construction workers more than 10 years” to build it and cost $25 billion, according to Ed Zarensky, “who teaches construction estimation at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Slimming it down to the 230-mile wall he is now demanding, it would take the same 10,000 workers more than two years to build.” The landscape along the border is “uniquely remote and difficult,” the project site is “narrow and runs for miles,” and there are “unknowns, such as the maximum wind load for a fence reaching three stories high.” Before building the wall, a “roadway running parallel to the border would be needed to allow the backhoes, dump trucks and cement trucks to reach the remote construction sites.” Then there would be the challenge in a tight labor market of finding enough skilled workers. And then there is the price tag. Frankel writes, as indicated by the following facts.

“The construction industry’s rule of thumb, Zarenski said, is it takes 5,000 to 6,000 workers a year to build $1 billion worth of construction. But you cannot fit them all on one job site. For a project like the border wall, you would want to have dozens of different sites going at once.

“Zarenski calculated how fast the work could go – assuming 10,000 workers spread over 50 sites. Then, they could build 37 feet of border wall each workday at each site – about 1,850 feet each workday across all sites.

“Even if these huge crews broke ground today, they would finish just 86 miles of border wall by year’s end. By Election Day 2020, 161 miles of border wall would be done.”

Fourth argument: There is little enthusiasm for the wall among many people who live along the border

In an article for VOX, Dara Lind looks at 2018 midterm elections which resulted in “Republicans losing two seats along the US-Mexico border, one in Arizona and one in New Mexico” (https://www.vox.com/2019/1/8/18173721/trump-border-facts-true-speech-lying). Lind adds these facts. First, “In the current Congress, the only Republican representing a district along the border is Texas Rep. Will Hurd, an outspoken moderate on immigration who says his opposition to a border wall is the reason he won reelection.” Second, a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2017 found that “people who lived less than 350 miles from the border were the least likely to support Trump’s wall.”

Journalists from the New York Times conducted interviews in four border states, California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. They “found few who shared the president’s sense of alarm” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/2019/01/08/us/border-wall-crisis-mexico-usa.html). They did find concern that Trump’s anti-migrant border policies was the cause of the current humanitarian crisis, “escalating tensions, overwhelming volunteer shelters and putting those seeking asylum from violence at renewed risk of health threats and other problems once they arrive in the United States.” It’s a problem created by the mismanagement of the border by the federal government, according to some city officials in the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. The journalists also heard from city officials of how the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had “in recent weeks released thousands of immigrants unannounced onto city streets” in El Paso and other cities in California and Arizona, “forcing city officials and migrant shelter operators to scramble to accommodate them.”

Mark Provost visited the US-Mexico border town of McAllen to interview the Mayor of that town in a story for Truthout (https://truthout.org/articles/mayor-of-texas-border-town-trumps-wall-is-pointless). Here’s what he learned.

“McAllen’s Mayor Jim Darling deals with the daily realities of immigration on one of Texas’s busiest border-crossing areas. Darling told the Texas Standard that while the media is hyper-focused on undocumented immigrants, the people he sees at respite centers are coming into the country legally to seek asylum.
Darling could hardly disagree more with President Trump over the idea that his town is experiencing a crisis or ‘national emergency.’ In fact, last year Darling called McAllen “the overall safest city in Texas and one of the safest in the US.”

“Moreover, Mayor Darling points out that nearly 40 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue — the second highest in the state — comes from shoppers from Mexico, who cross the border peaceably and contribute to the local economy.

“Mayor Darling is in favor of border security and says Washington should get behind “immigration reform,” but he argues that Trump’s border wall is useless since the Rio Grande acts as a natural border. ‘We know where our border is and we have one,’ Darling says. ‘A wall is really not the effective way to protect our border.’

“Darling argues that wall construction would significantly damage the sensitive ecology and private property of residents. Darling also believes environmental impact reports shouldn’t be waived simply because the federal government demands it.”

Fifth argument – Trump’s border policy of zero tolerance violates international immigration laws

Marjorie Cohn has paid attention to how Trump’s border policy violates pertinent international laws (https://truthout.org/articles/indefinite-detention-of-migrants-violates-international-law). Her professional credentials are impressive. She is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, an advisory board member of Veterans for Peace, as well as an author of books and many articles. In this piece for Truthout, she focuses on how the “indefinite detention” policy of the Trump’s Department of Justice violates international law, a policy and practice that allows border officials to detain those seeking asylum in the US for months or even years. Cohn points out that, as of July 2018, there were more than 1,000 applicants who have been “incarcerated” for months or years with no resolution of their cases.

She writes: “Indefinite detention violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” She also informs us of US obligations under international law. “The United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, making its provisions part of the US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which says treaties ‘shall be the supreme law of the land.” How does this apply to the present border situation? Her answer: “Keeping families locked up for months with no good reason is unjust and inappropriate. It denies them due process and a timely resolution of their legal claims. And their time of release is unpredictable.”

There is expert evidence that prolonged detention causes serious psychological harm to detainees. On this point she writes: “Experts report that prolonged indefinite detention can cause anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.” She refers specifically to a letter written by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which “wrote a 2015 letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security [under Obama]. The letter stated: “The act of detention or incarceration itself is associated with poorer health outcomes, higher rates of psychological distress, and suicidality, making the situation for already vulnerable women and children even worse.”

Cohn also considers how the indefinite detention policy of the Trump administration violates the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example, “The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, ‘No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” She quotes Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, who stated: “Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.” In short, the policies of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice for detaining migrants who seek asylum, especially for families and children, violate international laws to which the US is legally obligated.

In the meantime, the US Navy “is planning to build tent cities to house migrants, including two camps in California slated to house up to 47,000 people each.” Cohn adds: “They will be called ‘austere cities.’”

There is some good news amidst it all: “local officials in Texas near Austin, California’s Sacramento Country, Springfield County in Western Oregon, and Alexandria, Virginia, have cancelled deals with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain migrants.”

(You can find an in-depth analysis on the subject of international law and refugees at: https://ijrcenter.org/refugee-law.)

Sixth argument – Trump’s shutdown of government agencies is ruthless, politically expedient, and causing great harm to federal employees and other Americans

As of January 15, 2018, a quarter of the federal government has been shut down for 25 days, longer than any previous shutdown, and the political impasse in the nation’s capital continued to be unresolved. As a consequence, funding for 10 government agencies, the Executive Office of the President, the Judicial branch, and various “independent agencies” is being withheld, affecting 800,000 federal government workers, and leading to a ripple or multiplier effect that will cause financial hardship and mental stress among contract workers who make up 40 percent of the federal government workforce, the businesses that rely on the purchases of government employees, the many thousands of families being directly and indirectly impacted, along with those who rely on government social-welfare (e.g., food stamps and housing subsidies) and government loans and subsidies (e.g., many farmers), and those who count on tax refunds. Public parks and museums are closed or largely unsupervised. And the problem will worsen the longer the shutdown continues. The Wikipedia “page” titled “United States federal government shutdown of 2018-2019” provides useful facts and background information (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_government_shutdown_of_2018%E2%80%932109#).

A New York Times editorial board article provides additional evidence on the federal employees (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/02/opinion/government-shutdown-2019-trump.html). The editors write: “Some 420,000 of those, deemed ‘essential personnel,’ are working without pay. This includes upward of 41,000 law enforcement officials, 54,000 border patrol agents, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration workers. (If you flew this holiday season, it was only thanks to these unpaid women and men.) Another 380,000 workers have been furloughed, including 28,000 employees of the Forest Service, 16,000 in the Park Service and 16,700 at NASA.” Many of the workers do not have backup reserves and consequently are unable to pay the mortgage and other bills, their lives now filled with stress, financial turmoil, and an unpredictable future that could “carry heavy consequences.”

The editors also add these statements on how some government functions and services are being affected: “…the Small Business Administration has been shuttered, delaying the processing of loans. A growing number of national parks, museums and historic sites will need to close, disrupting tourism for the sites and for surrounding businesses. At some of the parks kept open during the holidays even as many rangers and other support staff were furloughed, there were reports of trash piling up, toilets overflowing with human waste and episodes of vandalism. Routine screenings by the Food and Drug Administration are being put on hold, and the Federal Communications Commission is set to halt most of its operation on Thursday. The situation on Indian Lands is about to get dire. The list goes on and on.”

Despite this havoc, Trump’s responses have shown little empathy toward the affected government employees, saying that “most of the people not getting paid are Democrats,” or most of them are willing to stay out until he [Trump] gets his wall, or the “furloughed” workers will make adjustments as they always do, and other dismissive remarks.

Seventh argument: The majority of Americans oppose the shutdown and want it to end.

The New York Time editors refer to “a recent poll by Reuters/Ipsos [that contradicts the president and] found that only a quarter of all Americans support the shutdown. [Additionally] Only 35 percent said they favored including money for the wall in a spending bill.” On top of all this, Trump’s callousness toward the affected federal workers is revealed when he recently issued “an executive order freezing pay for the government’s civilian workforce in 2019.”

Other polls find the same thing. A poll that ran on December 21-22 for The Business Insider by Survey/Monkey Audience asked 1,025 respondents “What is the best use of $5.7 billion in federal funding, offering four options, according to an article written by Bob Brian and Walt Hickey (https://www.businessinsider.com/government-poll-ocasio-cortez-ideas-for-trump-border-wall-money-2018-12). Here are the options and the results.

•”build a portion of a wall along the US-Mexico border” – only 19% of respondents chose this option
•”fund pre-kindergarten programs for every child in the US for a year” – 15%
•”pay the healthcare expenses for roughly 530,000 Americans for a year” – 36%
•”fund infrastructure improvements” – 30%

Four out of five chose an option other than the wall. However, within the data a predictable partisan split is manifest. Of those identified as moderately or very conservative, 53% wanted the wall, while only 2% of those who identified as moderately or very liberal chose this option. The implication drawn by the Brian and Hickey is that “only the core supporters who comprise Trump’s base want the funding for the wall, while the rest of respondents were uninterested in allocating nearly $6 billion to the border partition.” This finding, the journalists point out, matched “up with a previous INSIDER poll, conducted before the start of the shutdown, that found 60% of those surveyed wouldn’t tolerate a shutdown over the wall. Other pollsters found similar results.”

Eighth argument – Trump says shutdown could go on for months or even years, with malice of “no thought”

Supported by the Republican leadership and most Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, repeated by his press secretary and others in his administration, echoed by Fox News and right-wing radio hosts, and dutifully followed by his base, Trump has insisted that he would not sign any legislation to end the partial federal government shutdown until there was legislation from Congress that included $5+ billion for a “wall” to “secure” or increase security along a relatively small section of the 2000-mile U.S.-Mexican border. He has said recently that, unless the Democrats in the House agree to his demands, the shutdown could go on for months or even years. In an article published in The Atlantic, Russell Berman confirms this.

“During a two-hour meeting [on Friday, January 4] that both parties acknowledged was contentious, the president told Democratic leaders that the current partial shutdown of federal departments and agencies could stretch on for ‘months or even years’ if they do not yield on funding for his southern-border wall, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters” https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/trump-shutdown-could-last-months-or-even-years/579535

Subsequently, according to Berman’s account (and widely reported), “Trump confirmed making the threat—’I absolutely said it,’ he boasted—during his own, much lengthier press conference about an hour later, digging in on the border impasse even as he directed Vice President Mike Pence to lead talks with a team of congressional negotiators over the weekend. ‘I don’t think it will, but I am prepared,’ Trump said in the Rose Garden outside the White House, where he was flanked by Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and the top two Republicans in the House.”

On Tuesday evening, January 8, Trump gave a roughly ten-minute address to the nation on his reasons for the shutdown. It was broadcast on network news outlets. The New York Times published an article in which they provided background and fact checks of the speech (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/us/politics/trump-speech.html). Here are a few examples from the article.

Trump blamed the shut down totally on the Democrats unwillingness to fund border security. But the facts indicated that the Democrats have “offered $1.3 billion in funding for border security measures like enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing,” though they do not support Trump’s wall. And, “at a meeting with Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer in December, Mr. Trump took responsibility for the partial government solution,” saying “I will take the mantle. It will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Trump claimed“ Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across our southern border.” The fact check found otherwise. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest Drug Threat Assessment report, “most of it is smuggled into the United States through legal ports of entry at the southern border, not through the desert.” The New York Times fact checkers also refer to the opioid epidemic and how the drug fentanyl plays a major part in it. But most “fentanyl enters the United States from packages mailed directly from China through traditional ports of entry…and through Canada from China.” The low-grade fentanyl that comes from Mexico “is often hidden in automobile compartments, much like conventional drug smuggling,” and enters through legal ports of entry.

Trump claimed that “…all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.” The New York Times points to this fact: “In many cases, immigrants – legal or illegal – are seeking jobs that American citizens do not want to do.”

How will it end?

Trump is now threatening to declare a “national emergency” over his inability to get Democratic support in the US Congress for his “wall.” If he carries through with his threat, he would give himself the authority, for example, to deploy the army engineers to the border to build the wall. But there would be much more he could do. In an in-depth article for The Atlantic magazine, Elizabeth Goitein gives us an idea of how broad presidential power would be extended under a declaration of national emergency.

“The moment the president declares a ‘national emergency’ – a decision that is entirely within his discretion – more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of a pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze America’s bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest” (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/01/presidential-emergency-powers/576418). Under a proclamation of a national emergency, the president might even postpone upcoming national elections.

Currently, there is no compromise in sight. Democrats in the House have been passing bills that address the border crisis. See, for example, the report by Politicususa on the two-part bill passed by the Democratically-controlled House on Thursday, January 3 to end the partial government shutdown (https://www.politicususa.com/2019/01/03/democrats-push-plan-to-end-shutdown-and-ignore-trumps-wall-demand.html). Trump paid no serious attention to it because it did not include the $5.7 billion for the wall he wants, though it did provide “1.3 billion for border fencing and $300 million for other border security items including technology and cameras.” The other part “would fund the other federal agencies that are now unfunded including the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Commerce and Justice, through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year,” and fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb 8. Democrats in the House are now passing separate funding bills to open specific agencies in what seems a futile effort that the Republican-controlled Senate will take a vote in support of one of the Democratic bills, opening the opportunity for a bipartisan challenge to the president.

I’m left with the ominous feeling that those who see developments that are taking us toward an authoritarian government, if not a 21st century fascism, may be right. See, for example, Carl Boggs book, Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroad, or Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works: The Politics of US and Them. Can these trends, exemplified in Trump’s actions toward migrants and the shutdown, be reversed? The answer will probably come soon.

The Green New Deal: ephemeral or enduring?

The Green New Deal: ephemeral or enduring?
Bob Sheak, December 25, 2018

A Green New Deal

The idea of a green new deal has been brought to public attention in recent months by a draft resolution proposed by Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Sunrise Movement and the left-wing political action committee Justice Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez has just been elected in November to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent New York’s 14th congressional district, including Queens and the Bronx.

They have offered a “draft text” of a green new deal for the consideration of the House leadership when Democrats take control of that branch of government in January 2019. And, as reported by Sierra Club’s Heather Smith, Ocasio-Cortez has already “participated in a sit-in at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office organized by a group of young people with the Sunrise Movement to promote the plan (https://www.sierra.org/sierra/what-green-new-deal-anyway-alexandria-ocasio-cortez). There were 150 people at the protest.

The Plan – the general and preliminary details

The crux of proposal by Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators is the creation of a “Select Committee For a Green New Deal” and the identification of broad and transformative objectives dealing with climate change and economic and social inequalities (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jxUzp9SZ6-VB-4wSm8sseIVMsqWZrSrYpYC9sIHKLzo/edit).

The select committee is to have “the authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan, or what they call the “Plan for a Green New Deal.” The Committee will be tasked to develop the plan in “consultation with experts and leaders from business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia and broadly civil society groups and communities.” The hoped for timeline is that the plan is to be “executed in no longer than 10 years from the start of execution of such a Plan.” So, if the House, then the Senate, and then the President would sign off by 2021 on some number of the proposals embodied in the plan, especially those related to climate change and the related employment, the goal is that they should be fully implemented by 2031, if not before.

The draft text includes sections laying out details on how the committee is to be constituted, on the procedures to be followed by the select committee, and that the committee will receive support from the staff of the House. Additionally, the committee will submit period reports to the House or any House committee deemed to be appropriate.

On the funding, the massive investment to pay for the plan, details of which are not included in the draft proposal, will come generally from: “the same ways we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same way we paid for World War II and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WWII) to extend credit and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.”

The objectives of the plan are broadly twofold, each of which involve references to multiple programs, the need for support in the legislative process, and rather large and, in some cases, unprecedented funding. One part of the plan includes objectives to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and move from fossil fuels to a sustainable energy system, which Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues refers to as “an energy transition.” The other part is to “virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” And, as noted, the plan hopes to make major strides in these direction within ten years after the legislation stemming from the plan is approved by the federal government.

On the climate/energy section, the plan is “dramatically expand renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of the national power demand met through renewable sources”; build a national, energy-efficient “smart” grid; upgrade “every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort, and safety”; eliminate “ greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including investing in local-scale agriculture”; eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water; fund “massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases; and make “green technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States.”

With respect to economic and social justice, they identify another broad range of objectives, as follows:

#1 – “provide all members of our society, across all regions and all communities, the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage to everyone who wants one”

#2 – “diversity local regional economies, with a particular focus on communities where the fossil fuel industry holds significant control over the labor market, to ensure workers have the necessary tools, opportunities, and economic assistance to succeed during the energy transition”

#3 – “require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety, and wage standards that recognize the rights of workers to organized and unionize free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, and creation of meaningful, quality, career employment”

#4 – “ensure a ‘just transition’ for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution, and other environmental harm including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level and by prioritizing solutions that end the harms faced by front-line communities from climate change and environmental pollution”

#5 – “protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations”

#6 – “mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth….”

#7 – “include additional measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurism”

#8 – “deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment”

Once the select committee has consulted with experts and interested parties, held hearings, submitted reports, received feed-back from other House committees and interested parties, it will “prepare draft legislation for the enactment of the plan.”

The implication is that many different legislative initiatives will be needed to advance the various parts of the plan but they will be connected by the framework of the plan, a plan that offers radical proposals aimed at transforming the society in ways to make it more environmentally sustainable by accelerating a shift from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency, to more equal in the distribution of opportunities, to the elimination of poverty, and to racial and gender equality.

There is no way to know now when the federal government will act in support of one or more parts of the plan. If, after the 2020 elections, Democrats control both houses of the U.S. Congress, have the means to overcome Republican filibusters, and have a progressively-minded President in the White House, then perhaps there may be some legislation with a chance of being enacted into law. However, it would be truly revolutionary if all the programs now included in the New Green Deal were approved and funded in the foreseeable future, especially knowing that the present is so darkly awash in such powerful reactionary forces.

Noah Smith offers a point of view worth considering. He thinks that “the plan as sketched out so far mentions a number of wildly ambitious and expensive ideas and goals that don’t dovetail very well with the objective of halting climate change” (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-12-12/a-green-new-deal-isn-t-ready-for-prime-time). He adds:

“Eliminating poverty mitigating economic disparities and creating ambitious new social safety net programs are all worth aspirations. But they go far beyond the goal of stopping climate change. Yes, paying poor and working-class Americans to build green infrastructure, retrofit old buildings and create a new national smart grid will advance both goals at once. But money spent on universal basic income – which some estimates predict will cost several trillion dollars a year – would not fight climate change.”

Smith recommends this: “The best solution is to separate out purely re-distributional ideas like basic income, health care, and job guarantees from the rest of the plan, and advance those ideas separately. A Green New Deal should focus exclusively on cleaning up the environment, and on paying low-income Americans to do that work.” This is what the authors of the Green New Deal expect, but it’s worth emphasizing so as not to demoralize supporters when the whole plan is not implemented at the same time, if ever.

Some early momentum

E.A. Crunden reports for Think Progress that “a policy group is being formed to support the effort,” there is a “climate mobilization office” in the works, and a 501c(3) non-profit, called The New Consensus, has been created to support Green New Deal efforts. In addition, there is momentum in the US House and Senate (https://thinkprogress.org/green-new-deal-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-democrats-95cb356e94ca).

According to Crunden, the proposal garnered early support from at least 15 House Democrats, including Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Ted Lieu (D-CA), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with Reps.-elect Deb Haaland (D-NM), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Joe Neguse (D-CO), and Rep-elect Ocasio-Cortez.
And, in a more recent article for the Huffington Post, Alexander C. Kaufman reports that, by December 14, the number of Democratic representatives supporting the green new deal proposal had grown to “more than three dozen backers in the House, a half dozen Senators, including Senators Corrie Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), as well as “more than 300 local and state officials [who] signed an open letter offering support for a Green New Deal” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cory-booker-green-new-deal_us_5c1415ffe4b05d7e5d81f322).

Bernie Sanders is one whose example and record served to inspire the Green New Deal. He has long supported the need for bold policies to phase out fossil fuels in favor of renewables and energy efficiency and has been an inspiration to recently elected representatives like Ocasio-Cortez. He says that “Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet,” that 97 percent of all climate scientist have agreed that the best research documents the reality of catastrophic climate change, that it is affecting people around the world now, particularly those in low-income and minority communities, that it is exacerbating global conflict and terrorism, and that it will disproportionately harm our children and grandchildren. He has proposed a “comprehensive plan to combat climate change and make sure our planet is habitable and safe for our kids and grandkids.” The plan is like the Green New Deal, though with some further details. For example, Sanders’ plan calls for the U.S. “to cut carbon pollution [emissions] by 40 percent by 2030 and by over 80 percent by 2050 by putting a tax on carbon pollution, repealing fossil fuel subsidies and making massive investments in energy efficiency and clean, sustainable energy such as wind and solar.” His plan would create “a Clean-Energy Workforce of 10 million good-paying jobs by creating a 100% clean energy system.” You can find his analysis and proposals at: https://berniesanders.com/issues/climate-change.

Mixed responses to the Green New Deal proposal

As I’ll discuss later in this post, the plan has generated a range of responses, from enthusiastic support, with the idea that it provides a framework for the 2020 Democratic Party, to skepticism that it is naïve and unrealistic and pays no serious attention to the existing committee and authority structures of the House of Representatives, to downright rejection of it as counterproductive, if not Anti-American. We can expect that Trump, the Republicans, their corporate backers, and their compliant political base will oppose all aspects of the Green New Deal based on their unwavering support for fossil fuels and their antipathy toward any notions of economic and social justice. Nonetheless, there is evidence from polling that majorities of Americans support many of the Green New Deal proposals.

Miles Kampt-Lassin points to recent polls: “When it comes to Medicare for All, 70 percent are on board. Student debt relief is widely supported. Three-quarters of Americans are behind raising taxes on the wealthy. And when it comes to a Green New Deal, Data for Progress found that among eligible and enthusiastic voters, more than half ‘said they would be more likely to support a candidate running on a green job guarantee,” which is one of the central provisions of the New Green Deal (http://inthesetimes.com/article/21615/bernie-sanders-ocasio-cortez-climate-town-hall-green-new-deal).

Precedents?

There are not many historical precedents for such a transformative agenda. Aside from wartime, there is the inter-state highway, the 1960s space program. But the 1930s New Deal programs advanced by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration’s responses to the economic depression of the 1930s stand out as one. There is no doubt the original New Deal created programs and regulations that laid the legislative and programmatic foundations for reducing inequality and poverty, for reducing bank failures, for advancing progressive labor laws, and for generally encouraging an active role for government in the society. If the New Deal did not end the Depression, it did relieve significantly the suffering of millions of people and laid the foundation for an unprecedented social-welfare state and government regulation of the banks and industry, even public ownership, legitimated industrial unionization, put millions of people to work on government projects, and supported conservation projects. Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein give a informative summary of what was accomplished by the first New Deal not in one swoop but in separate government actions during the 1930s (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/21634/labor_green_new_deal_ocasio_cortez_sunrise_movement_unions).

I quote them here.

“In the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal—a set of government programs to provide employment and social security, reform tax policies and business practices, and stimulate the economy. It included the building of homes, hospitals, school, roads, dams and electrical grids. The New Deal put millions of people to work and created a new policy framework for American democracy.

“New Deal programs included public employment (Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps); farm price supports (Agricultural Adjustment Act); environmental restoration (reforestation and land conservation); labor rights (Wagner Act); minimum wages and standards (National Recovery Act and Fair Labor Standards Act); cooperative enterprises (Works Progress Administration support for self-help); public infrastructure development (TVA and rural electrification); subsidized basic necessities (food commodity programs and Federal Housing Act); construction of schools, parks, and housing (Civil Works Administration); and income maintenance (Social Security Act).
“Besides its famous “alphabet soup” of Federal government agencies, the New Deal was part of a larger process of social change that included experimentation at a state, regional and local level; organization among labor, unemployed, urban, the elderly and other grassroots constituencies; and lively debate on future alternatives that went far beyond the policies actually implemented.”

One of the similarities between now and then is that there are great and rising inequalities in both periods that the corporate-dominated economy and those allied with the Republican Party are unwilling to address. And there are differences, most prominently, the increasingly catastrophic, existentially-threatening climate changes that are unfolding today were not a factor in the politics of the 1930s. There is no question when one’s view is influenced by the verifiable facts that, more than ever, there is a need for a contemporary and expanded Green New Deal. But there are questions about strategy and tactics, especially about how to prioritize the host of programs that are now associated with the present version of the Green New Deal.

Some arguments advanced by supporters of the Green New Deal

The climate crisis must be addressed now

The article written by Miles Kampf-Lassin (referred to above) focuses on the “national” town hall meeting “Solving Our Climate Crisis” held on December 3-7 and sponsored by the organization Our Revolution, with the help of Green Peace, 350.org, Sun Rise, Dream Corps, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental organizations. The event was streamed live by TYT, Now This, ACT TV, Guardian, Intercept, and CNN, among others (https://citizentruth.org/bernie-sanders-solving-our-climate-crisis-town-hall-wrap-up).

There was much discussion at the town hall “about the dangers and potential solutions to the climate crisis,” with references to the recent reports by UN International Panel on Climate Change and the US National Climate Assessment for 2018. Both of which are based on extensive and authoritative documentation of the rapidly unfolding climate crisis. Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel spoke at the town meeting and described the major finding of the IPPC report in these terms: “Climate change is not some problem in the distant future: It is here, it is now, and it is happening in every part of the country.” She gave the example of how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels are destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet and the prospect that it will cause “massive sea level rise,” affecting millions of people who live near coastlines and resulting in the “mass migration of people.” These outcomes can be avoided by significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, enough so that the global temperature does not rise from the 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels where it is now to not more than another 0.5 degrees. The proposed Green New Deal proposals on climate change are what is needed – and soon.

The Green New Deal gives us a reason to be optimistic

Author and journalist Naomi Klein says that the Green New Deal proposal makes her “feel more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years” (https://theintercept.com/2018/11/27/green-new-deal-congress-climate-chances). She gives this reason: “For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.” Klein thinks we are still very far from that pathway. But she believes that the proposal provides a multi-issue agenda that will bring groups with different priorities to see how their various foci can be integrated into a larger coordinated effort. She writes: “By giving the [select] committee a mandate that connects the dots between energy, transportation, hosing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee, and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal plan would be mapping precisely” “the far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

She likes the 2020 target date for finishing the preparatory organization, research, consultations, hearings, and the production of blueprint legislation as significant. On this point, she writes:

“That early 2020 deadline is important – it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere twelve years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.”

Klein emphasizes that nothing about the plan “is certain or even likely.” The Democrats may not take back the White House and Senate in 2020. Even if they do, more centrist minded Democrats may stymie efforts to advance legislation related to the Green New Deal because they see them as too radical. But the congressional, political, and education work in support of a Green New Deal between now and 2020 will, Klein thinks, will have something that until now has been sorely missing: “a concrete plan on the table, complete with a science-based timeline, that is not only coming from social movements on the outside of government, but which also has a sizeable (and growing) bloc of committed champions inside the House of Representatives.”

Unions and workers will benefit from a Green New Deal and should take a leading role in making it happen

Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein offer 12 reasons for why labor should demand a Green New Deal (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/21634/labor_green_new_deal_ocasio_cortez_sunrise_movement_unions).

They view the Green New Deal as a visionary program for labor and favor moving ahead on all aspects of this program, with particular emphasis on programs that address climate change, the green jobs that will be associated with such programs, a full employment plank, and reforms that strengthen collective bargaining. They do not think that it is “far-fetched,” but rather it embodies “plans for a public works programs, the expansion of human rights and new entitlement programs…. with organized labor playing a leading role.” It is a plan the aims at “protecting humanity from climate catastrophe,” while also unifying “the political forces needed to meet labor’s demands for jobs, union rights, economic security, full employment, and worker empowerment.” Based on these understandings, they give “12 reasons for why labor should get on board with this Green New Deal.” Here I quote them.

1. Avert climate catastrophe: We are in a climate emergency. The current threat to humanity rivals that of Nazi armies that once threatened to establish a “thousand-year Reich” whose master race would rule the world. Millions of workers mobilized to build the tanks, planes and ammunition that defeated the Nazis. Today we need a mobilization that similarly puts millions to work building the windmills, solar collectors, grids and other tools needed to defeat climate change. Working people have no greater collective interest.

2. Provide jobs for all: The production of equipment and construction of infrastructure for the new climate-safe economy will provide manufacturing and construction jobs for millions of workers. The Climate Jobs Guarantee contained within the Green New Deal would provide jobs for all who want them at a base wage of $15, including healthcare and other benefits. The ongoing conversion to a sustainable economy will continue to provide good jobs for generations.

3. Abolish poverty: In addition to a jobs guarantee providing wages that will lift workers out of poverty, the Green New Deal will also include basic income programs and universal health care for those who are not in the workforce.

4. Rebuild the labor movement: Put simply, a Green New Deal can help rebuild the U.S. labor movement. With input from labor, the plan can guarantee the right to organize, bargain collectively, engage in concerted action and retain basic Constitutional rights on the job for all workers.

5. Unite the working class: President Donald Trump, the Republican Party and corporate America have been working overtime to divide the working class. The Green New Deal embodies the common interests of all working people in climate protection, jobs for all and greater equality. At the same time, it addresses the legacy of race, gender, and other forms of discrimination and injustice. And it expresses human values that recognize the equal worth and common fate of all people.

6. Win wide popular support for a labor-friendly program: Public opinion polling shows that the programs of the Green New Deal are extraordinarily popular. A recent poll shows that over half of voting-eligible adults said they would be more likely to support a candidate running on a Green Job Guarantee, including 35 percent of Trump voters. And young people are far more likely to support a candidate running on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy and Green jobs.

7. Build a powerful labor-friendly coalition: The original New Deal coalition brought together diverse constituencies including labor, African Americans, city dwellers and farmers. That coalition was a dominant force in American politics for more than 40 years. The Green New Deal similarly provides the basis for a broad, long-lasting coalition that can again transform American politics and society. By helping lead that coalition, organized labor can secure the rights and well-being of all workers.

8. Unify environmental and labor forces in the Democratic Party: Labor and environmentalists have too often been at loggerheads in the Democratic Party. This has undermined both the protection of the environment and of workers. A Green New Deal can become a common program unifying the environmental and labor constituencies of the Democratic Party. By making protecting the climate the way to provide jobs for all, it puts an end to the phony conflict between “jobs and the environment.”

9. Challenge corporate dominance of the Democratic Party: For far too long, the Democrats’ corporate wing, representing the interests of the wealthy, has dominated the party. Even when Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, the corporate wing of the party helped stymie both labor law reform and effective climate protection—screwing workers twice. The Green New Deal provides a program that represents the views of the great majority of Democrats that can allow the party’s rank-and-file to take control and advance both workers’ rights and climate protection.

10. Strengthen workers bargaining power: The tremendous demand for labor created by the transition to a fossil-free economy, combined with the Climate Jobs Guarantee, will eliminate that “long line of workers at the gate” that employers use to strengthen their hands in negotiations. The Climate Jobs Guarantee will set a new floor for wages and benefits that all employers will need to exceed if they wish to sustain a workforce.

11. Expand union apprenticeship and training: As with the economic mobilization for World War II, climate mobilization will require training a new workforce. The Green New Deal defines union apprenticeships and other training programs as a central way to do so. That will provide both a major source of financial support for unions and a chance to show the benefits of unionization to millions of workers entering the workforce or being retrained for new jobs.

12. Establish a standard for those who claim to be labor’s friends: One reason for organized labor’s declining clout has been the lack of a clear standard for those who seek labor’s support. The Green New Deal provides a clear statement of how candidates and organizations can show support for labor—and therefore what politicians must fight for if they want labor’s support.
Rural communities would benefit from a Green New Deal

The benefits of a green economy are not limited to industrial workers and urban/suburban populations.

In an article for Inside Climate News, Dan Gearino refers to evidence from a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that “shows the extent to which clean energy is [already] contributing to jobs [in] the rural economies of 12 Midwestern states” (https://insideclimatenews.org/07122018/rural-jobs-clean-energy-wind-power-energy-efficiency-renewable-vs-fossil-fuels-climate-change). One implication of this finding is that the parts of the Green New Deal that focus on support for renewables would add to the employment opportunities in these rural areas.

Here are some specific examples of the evidence from the NRDC study. In 10 of the rural areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, the percentage of total employment in clean energy were greater than the percentage of jobs in fossil fuels. “The exceptions,” according to the NRDC research, “are North Dakota, which has the Bakken oil field, and Kansas, where the numbers are close.” One striking fact is this one: “In 2017, the Midwest added 31 gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, 24 gigawatts of which are located in rural areas, according to government data cited by NRDC.” The research finds that “Clean energy jobs include those related to renewable energy power generation, clean transportation and energy efficiency.” The clean energy boon is creating jobs, income for farmers and tax revenues for communities.”

There are at least two implication of the NRDC research for the Green New Deal. One is that this evidence of the growth of renewables and efficient energy, reflected in “building design, energy efficiency upgrades and other aspects of reducing energy,” in parts of the country that may sometimes be overlooked. And, notably, there is an energy transition already underway. Secondly, it is an indication of how all segments and geographical areas of the society may eventually benefit from a Green New Deal.

Funding the Green New Deal

This will be one of the most challenging aspects of the proposed Green New Deal, one that requires substantial government funding.

The draft resolution for a Green New Deal does not include the detailed costs associated with the possible future implementation involved in the massive replacement of fossil fuels with renewable and efficient energy sources, the jobs’ guarantees, and other subjects, required by the plan. This is something that Ocasio-Cortez and her allies hope to see worked out by the Select Committee in its various consultations with academics, experts, social movement groups, communities, and various other congressional committees over time. However, the outline of the Green New Deal, details of which I have included earlier in this post, refers in very general ways to the expected sources of such funding. I’ll quote the relevant words again here, namely, that the Green New Deal will be paid for:

“the same ways we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same way we paid for World War II and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WWII) to extend credit and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.”

To clarify these words, would require some digging into what quantitative easing entails and the history of how we did pay for wars. On the latter point, U.S. wars have been paid for with deficit spending by Congress and now represent a significant portion of the $21+ trillion national debt. Whatever, these are issues that require supporters of the plan to delve more deeply into the subject. Only time will tell, of course, whether parts of the plan and the requisite funding are ever approved by the US Congress and signed by a sitting president.

In the meantime, there are at least two experts who have said that the funding aspects of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal are technically reasonable. Ellen Brown, an expert on public banking and related issues, thinks that the funding ideas of Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues are operationally doable and, in an ideal political situation, could be implemented and pay the costs for the Green New Deal programs, at least for some of them (http://truthdig.com/articles/this-radical-plan-to-fund-the-green-new-deal-just-might-work). Brown’s key point is that, the Federal Reserve has the authority to fund any program Congress wants, and it can do so without spurring inflation, if there are surplus workers available for employment, there are materials and businesses available to meet the increased demand, and the added money reaches consumers. She writes:

“The Fed showed what it could do with ‘quantitative easing’ when it created the funds to buy $2.46 trillion in federal debt and $1.77 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, all without inflating consumer prices. The Fed could use the same tool to buy bonds earmarked for a Green New Deal, and because it returns its profits to the Treasury after deducting its costs, the bonds would be nearly interest-free. If they were rolled over from year to year, the government, in effect, would be issuing new money.”

Stephanie Kelton, a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and former economic adviser to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, has authored an article for the Huffington Post, in which she maintains that “we can pay for a Green New Deal” (https://huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-green-new-deal-cost-us-5c0042b2e4b027f1097bda5b). She writes:

“Anything that is technically feasible is financially affordable. And it won’t be a drag on the economy – unlike the climate crisis itself, which will cause tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage to American homes, communities and infrastructure each year. A Green New Deal will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done.”

Kelton also writes: “The federal government can spend money on public priorities without raising revenue, and it won’t wreck the nation’s economy to do so. That may sound radical, but it’s not. It’s how the U.S. economy has been functioning for nearly half a century. That’s the power of the purse.”

Concluding thoughts

In its current version, the Green New Deal lays out a most ambitious plan for the transformation of not only the energy sector but of one that includes programs that would usher in full employment, income guarantees large enough to ensure no one is poor, universal health care, a buttressed public-school system, affordable if not free higher education, and more. It represents ideologically and programmatically the antithesis of the current dominate right-wing political-economic ideology that promotes less government intervention in the market, less support for programs that benefit ordinary people, less regulation, more privatization, lower taxes, the rampant externalization of the costs associated with the damage corporations and other enterprises do to the environment. And all this is further buttressed by the view that the rich and powerful in society are superior to the rest of us, deserve their wealth and power because they are the “job creators,” and that, without them, the society would fall into chaos and deprivation (see Nancy MacLean’s masterful book on these issues titled Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of The Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America).

Of course, there would be enormous opposition from the corporate world and the huge resources they allocate to influencing the political and legislative processes. Fossil fuel corporations would virulently oppose a Green New Deal that would threaten to phase them out. Corporate CEOs would not welcome the emphasis on reforming and strengthening unionization. Insurance companies would continue to oppose universal health care proposals. The corporations would overall be opposed to such an extensive government plan that would threaten to undermine and limit their power over the economy. Some in the higher corporate strata might be willing to support a weak carbon tax or other inadequate and relatively inexpensive programs to address the climate crisis, but that’s all they will tolerate – and it would not be sufficient.

With all this, along with the predictable opposition of tens of millions of Americans who reject science and facts and seem steadfast in their support of Trump, will the proposed Green New Deal inspire an unprecedented welling up of support among a majority of Americans, will they be effectively mobilized, and will they turn out to vote for progressive candidates in 2020? In the meantime, will Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate support a strong and independent “select committee” authorized to gather information, hold hearings, release reports, and propose legislation? There are some indications that a committee will be created, but that it may not be given the resources by the Democratic leadership to accomplish much (https://truthdig.com/articles/are-democrats-attempting-to-kneecap-the-green-new-deal).

There are a lot of questions. A lot of reasons to be skeptical. Some reasons to be hopeful, as Naomi Klein thinks. The central questions are these: Will the Green New Deal represent only a momentary demand from the left, one that will dissipate in the sound a fury of the dysfunctional politics that beset us, without leading to the significant changes we need. Or will this lofty plan gather momentum, pull masses of people together, and, in the short time we have, yield some, probably not all, of the desperately needed radical changes that our current situation requires? It doesn’t seem there is a middle ground or much time for half measures, especially when it comes to the accelerating catastrophic climate change.

More research documents the advance of catastrophic climate change. Massive government mobilization for renewable energy is needed

More research documents the advance of catastrophic climate change. Massive government mobilization for renewable energy is needed.
Bob Sheak, December 1, 2018

The scientific and expert evidence documenting the profoundly destructive and accelerating changes in the earth’s climate continues to accumulate. We are talking about a steadily rising earth’s temperature stemming from human activities that are affecting virtually all aspects of societies and habitats all over the world.

Those who deny, evade, postpone action, or offer only marginal reforms, including most importantly those in powerful economic and governmental positions, serve only to perpetuate and compound this terrifying trend. Investigative journalist and author Dahr Jamail names the phenonmon anthropogenic climate disruption, calling attention to how human activities, particularly those involved in generating greenhouse gases, are responsible for the myriad climatic and environmental impacts that are leading to the massive extinction of species and threatening to upend the foundations of human life. See Jamail’s running series of over 200 in-depth reports on “anthropogenic climate disruption” going back to 2012 at: https://truthout.org/series/planet-or-profit.

Recent headlines give us a sense of the severity of the problem.

“Will we survive climate change” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/science/climate-change-doom.html)

“How extreme weather is shrinking the planet” (as more and more habitats are degraded or destroyed) (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/26/how-extreme-weather-is-shrinking-the-planet)

“California wildfires: Where is the climate change outrage?” (https://truthout.org/articles/california-wildfires-where-is-the-climate-change-outrage)

“We’ve never seen this: massive Canadian glaciers shrinking rapidly” (www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/30/canada-glaciers-yukon-shrinking)

“Sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff: 60% of Earth’s wildlife wiped out since 1970” (https://www.commondrams.org/news/2018/10/30/humanity-sleepwalking-towards-edge-cliff-60-earths-wildlife-wiped-out-1970)

“US automakers double down on trucks and SUVs, despite talk of a cleaner future” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/15102018/automakers-gm-ford-pickup-suv-electric-vehicle-emissions-standard-climate-change-industry-bailout)

“Earth’s ice loss ‘is a nuclear explosion of geologic change” (https://truthout.org/articles/earths-ice-loss-is-a-nuclear-explosion-of-geologic-change)

“Disaster awaiting to happen as Trump quietly approves massive oil drilling project in arctic waters of Alaska coast” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/25/disaster-waiting-happen-trump-quietly-approves-massive-oil-drilling-project-arctic)

New Evidence

There are two new authoritative reports on this growing problem. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers an international perspective on the causes and consequences, with some attention to “solutions.” Volume Two of the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment focuses on this serious multi-faceted problem in the U.S. The reports can be viewed as complementary in that they both are based on increasingly sophisticated and abundant evidence that the effects of climate change are massive and represent a rapidly growing problem that requires a commensurate response by governments, a response that is thus far sorely lacking. Indeed, as we know, Trump and the Republicans in Washington reject or ignore both reports and advance policies that compound the climate crisis. And the Democrats have yet to advance policies that adequately confront the problem, though there is some reason to be hopeful about the policies that will emerge from the Democratically-controlled House that will be seated in January 2019.

In what follows, I will focus on the IPCC report, after a short summary of the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Domestically

The U.S. National Climate Assessment is the second major scientific report issued on the subject. It was issued this month (November, 2018). Thirteen federal agencies were involved in the production of this report and an earlier one issued in 2017.

According to an article by Coral Davenport and Kendra Pierre-Louis in The New York Times, the 1,656-page assessment “lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South.” Furthermore: “Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury….”

And: “No area of the country will be untouched, from the Southwest, where droughts will curb hydropower and tax already limited water supplies, to Alaska, where the loss of sea ice will cause coastal flooding and erosion and force communities to relocate, to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where saltwater will taint drinking water.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/climate-highlights-climate-assessment.html).

The evidence just keeps piling up.

Internationally

The recent IPPC report “was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies,” and was accepted at a session of the UN General Assembly on October 6, 2018by 180 countries (15 countries were absent), including the U.S. delegation. According to a report written by Coral Davenport for the New York Times, “a State Department statement said that ‘acceptance of this report by the panel does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report. Davenport writes:

“The State Department delegation faced a conundrum. Refusing to approve the document would place the United States at odds with many nations and show it rejecting established academic science on the world stage. However, the delegation also represents a president who has rejected climate science and climate policy”
(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate-ipcc-2040.html).

The Paris Climate Agreement

The basic point of the IPPC report was to assess whether the goals of the 2015 international Paris climate agreement were being achieved. Let’s take a detour back to Paris. In December 2015, the countries of the world sent representatives to this UN-sponsored event in Paris. The goals of the meeting was to find ways for the countries of the world to limit global greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would keep the average global temperature from rising to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, with the “aspirational” goal of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and also to assist less-developed countries to deal with effects of climate change.

Over the ensuing two years, by November of 2017, 194 countries had signed onto the agreement, with 147of their governments ratifying it. Obama had signed the agreement. Bill McKibben recalls that the agreement would result in hope and goodwill and spur a transition to alternative energy sources, “and that once nations began installing solar panels and wind turbines, they’ find it easier and cheaper than they had expected.” McKibben quotes Philip A. Wallach, a Brookings Institution fellow, who hoped that the meeting had spurred “a virtuous cycle of ambitious commitments, honestly report progress to match, and further commitments following on those successes” (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/11/22/global-warming-very-grim-forecast).

But things didn’t go as countries of the world hoped they would. Once in office, Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement, a process that takes three years to finalize. Trump’s decision made the US the only country in the world to leave the Paris accord. Because of the size of the U.S. economy and the level of its carbon emissions, second only to China’s, international action to stem to rise of the earth’s temperature was set back.

The Associated Press “asked two dozen climate scientists what would happen if the U.S. reneges on its commitments under the Paris Agreement,” as reported by Stefan Beckett for CBS News on June 1, 2017. “They said that doing so would make it more difficult to prevent crossing a dangerous threshold in global temperatures,” and, if the agreement falls apart, “could result in an additional 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each year, speeding up the rate of rising sea levels and melting ice sheets” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paris-climate-agreement-what-you-need-to-know).

Questions on whether global temperature can be slowed or stopped

The scientific evidence becomes more and more difficult to ignore, though Trump, the Republicans, and the fossil fuel industry led by ExxonMobil continue to oppose policies that would address the problem. The evidence compiled in the IPPC report indicates that the severe weather, ice melting, warming and acidification of the ocean, rising ocean levels, and more, will have major disruptive effects on humans, involving war, conflict, and proliferation of refugees, and more. The already bad situation will worsen as we approach1.5 degrees Celsius, and it will wreak more harm as we go beyond that level. So far, the IPPC finds that global governments are mostly not doing enough to reign in rising temperatures. The IPCC report is blunt in saying that global warming “is likely to reach [and perhaps surpass] 1.5degrees C [or 2.7degrees F] between 2030 and 2050 if it continues to increase at the current rate.” (http://ippc.ch/pdf/special-reports/sr15/wr15_spm_final,pdf).

One of the contributors to the IPCC report, Heleen De. Coninck, associate professor in Innovation Studies at the Environmental Science Department at Radboud University’s Faculty of Science in the Netherlands, provides further background in an interview at The Real News, iterating what climate scientists are saying, namely, that going beyond 1.5 degrees toward 2 degrees will have a great and devastating effect worldwide.

Coninck says that “…the parties in the Paris agreement have asked for [the IPCC] to answer the question whether they can still make the 1.5 degree target limits, and how that would compare to limiting global warming to 2 degrees. The Paris agreement says that we, as a world, should stay well below 2 degrees temperature rise compared to pre-industrial, and strive for [no more than a] 1.5 degree temperature rise. In terms of the differences in impacts, this report has really added a lot to the understanding of that. For instance, we know now that under a 2 degree limit, pretty much all the coral reefs in the world would just die out. Under a 1.5 degree limit, some of them would still be left” (https://therealnews.com/stories/author-of-new-ipcc-report-says-she-still-has-hope). In either case, there is a tremendous loss of reefs.

Some Highlights of the IPPC report of November 2018

In a long essay, Bob Berwyn reports on highlights of the report (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07102018/ipcc-climate-change-science-report-data-carbon-emissions-heat-waves-extreme-weather-oil-gas-agriculture).

Human activities, especially those involving fossil fuels, have already generated globally a one-degree Celsius increase above preindustrial temperatures. And the world is moving quickly toward 1.5 degrees. What is disturbing is that even at the present 1-degree global average temperature that has risen beyond pre-industrial levels, there are significant climate disruptions and calamities. Berwyn gives these readily familiar examples.

“Sea level rise is already causing frequent flooding and contaminating fresh water supplies on low lying islands. In Indonesia, the rising water and erosion has inundated poor coastal communities….” Additionally, “Satellite measurements from recent years show seal level rising faster than expected, and new data from ancient ice layers, tree rings and other sources suggest the polar ice sheets are more vulnerable to extensive melting at 1.5 degrees C warming that previously believed.”

Berwyn quotes Christopher Weber, “global lead scientist for climate and energy for the World Wildlife Fund, who said “We’re already seeing impacts like super storms, wildfires and heat waves from 1 degree of warming.” These are impacts that were not expected to occur under temperatures reached 2 degrees.

Feedback loops and tipping points increase the likelihood of unanticipated surges in temperatures

Jon Queally quotes Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, who told The Guardian that the IPCC report “fails to focus on the weakest link in the climate chain: the self-reinforcing climate tipping points and runaway warming” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/09/whats-not-latest-ipcc-report-much-much-more-terrifying-new-research). Queally also quotes Johan Rockstrom and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden who “found that it is precisely these feedback loops and tipping points that should most frighten and concern humanity,” and Nobel prize laureate Mario Molino who says:

“…the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system, and the other sources of climate pollution.”

For example, as the ice cover melts in the Arctic, more of the sun’s heat is absorbed by the open ocean rather than reflected back into space.

We are on track to blow past 1.5 degrees Celsius

This is what the scientists involved in the IPCC glean from the thousands of peer-reviewed studies they have evaluated. In the absence of “a radical transformation of energy, transportation, and agricultural systems, the world will hurdle past the 1.5 degree Celsius target…by the middle of the century,” if not sooner (i.e., by 2040 or even 2030).

If this should happen, then “nearly all of the planet’s coral reefs will die, droughts and heat waves will continue to intensify, and an additional 10 million people will face greater risks from rising sea levels, including deadly storm surges and flooded coastal zones.”

Indeed, in the absence of transformative changes, the world most likely will surpass 2 degrees, headed, according to Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, and move toward increases of 3 and 4 degrees Celsius. In this eventuality, we will enter a period of chaos and institutional and societal collapse. But just a one-half degree increase in the average world temperature, rising to 1.5 degrees, can have, according to University of Florida sea level expert Andrea Dutton (quoted by Berwyn), “far-reaching impacts on our ability to survive on this planet.” It’s extraordinary and terrifying that climate scientists are telling us that if greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficiently curtailed and soon, there will be environmental havoc and human misery across the globe.

With the right government and international policies, the earth’s temperature can be kept from reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius. But we don’t have nearly enough such policies.

The implication of this statement is that the U.S. China, and other countries with large economies and high-levels of greenhouse gas emissions, will find a way by 2040 to “cut global emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050, according to the IPPC report. Heleen De. Coninck (cited previously), one of the contributors to the IPPC report, still has hope that the governments of the world can adopt and implement the right policies. She thinks that we still have a chance to “shift from a predominantly fossil fuel-based system to a predominantly renewables-based system that is also very efficient with energy.”

In addition to shifting massively to renewable energy, she also hopes that we can learn how to preserve our forests, which keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and transform our agricultural system in ways to protect and retain carbon-absorbing soil, along with raising fewer cattle, which belch methane into the atmosphere. In addition, she says we need to reduce international trade and the transportation that involves long distance travel between countries, along with building energy-efficient buildings and transport. She adds, “If you plan your city in a way that you can reduce your transport needs and make your houses more efficient, you could do that in one go through urban planning policies, for instance.” She also refers to the need to develop carbon dioxide removal technologies to reduce the gas that is already in the atmosphere.

So far, however, there is too little progress in any of these areas. The countries of the world are not moving toward such outcomes. Berwyn writes:

“Existing pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions submitted under the Paris Agreement don’t come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even 2 degrees Celsius.” Rather, “scientists say they would result in closer to 3 or 4 degrees Celsius of warming.”

In the meantime, “extreme weather is shrinking the planet”

Bill McKibben discusses how liveable habitats for human beings are declining as the temperatures rise and extreme weather events proliferate. He reminds us that “in the past thirty years we’ve seen all twenty of the hottest years ever recorded.” And, he adds: “The melting of the ice caps and glaciers and the rising sea levels of our oceans and seas, initially predicted for the end of the century, have occurred decades early.” Continuing, he writes: “The planet’s diameter will remain eight thousand miles, and its surface will still cover two hundred million square miles,” but “the earth, for humans, has begun to shrink, under our feet and in our minds” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/26/how-extreme-weather-is-shrinking-the-planet).

The shrinking is reflected in along the world’s coastlines, where rising ocean and sea levels force people to abandon their communities. McKibben quotes a book written by Orrin Pilkey, an expert on sea levels at Duke University: “Like it or not, we will retreat from most the world’s non-urban shorelines in the not very distant future.” And the populations in coastline cities will increasingly suffer from storms and flooding. McKibben gives several examples of cities across the globe, including even Boston, about which he writes: “In the first days of 2018, a nor’ easter flooded downtown Boston; dumpsters and cars floated through the financial district.”

The habitability of some continental interiors will be undermined by soaring temperatures, disrupting all aspects of human activities. McKibben writes: “Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000.” He gives several examples. The summer of 2018 was the hottest ever measures in some areas of India, and record heat waves occurred in cities in Pakistan, Iran, Montreal, Africa, Korea. Algeria, and in parts of the American southwest. In the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, “triple-digit temperatures with soaring humidity levels [produced] a heat index of more than a hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit.” So, more and more places in the world are “becoming too hot for humans.” Furthermore: “As the planet warms, a crescent-shaped area encompassing parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the North China Plan, where about 1.5 billion people (a fifth of humanity) life, is at high risk of such temperatures in the next have century,” if not before that, as the IPPC report warns.

It’s not only human that are being affected by rising temperatures. McKibben points out that “[w]e have already managed to kill off sixty percent of the world’s wildlife since 1970 by destroying their habitats and now higher temperatures are starting to take their toll.”

McKibben’s next example of how the earth’s habitable areas are shrinking for humans concerns as access to safe water diminishes. One study carried out in 2017 by Manoj Joshi of the University of East Anglia “found that, by 2050, if temperatures rise to two degrees a quarter of the earth will experience serious drought and desertification.” Among other points, McKibben points out that we have “already overpumped the aquifers that lie beneath the world’s breadbaskets; without the means to irrigate, we may encounter a repeat of the nineteen thirties, when droughts and deep plowing led to the Dust Bowl….”

Finally, one-fifth of the ground in the Northern Hemisphere is underlaid with permafrost. With rising temperatures, the permafrost is melting and as it melt “it releases more carbon into the atmosphere.” This is turn leads to cracks in roads, tilting housings, and uprooted trees. The cost is going to be enormous. McKibben cites a report released by ninety scientists in 2017 that “concluded the economic losses from a warming Arctic could approach ninety trillion dollars in the course of the century.”

What is needed?

I again rely on Bill McKibben’s analysis, drawing on an article he wrote for New Republic magazine in August, 2016 (https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii).

His basic argument is that the U.S. government needs to undertake a massive war-level mobilization if we are to have any chance of stopping and reversing the disruptive and cataclysmic climate change that is besetting humanity. Implicitly, if this were to happen, the U.S.’s example would likely reverberate around the world and help to galvanize the international community to join the effort.

Indeed, the idea is not far-fetched. In July of 2016, McKibben reminds us, “the Democratic Party issued a platform that called for a World War-II-type ‘global climate emergency.’ In fact, Hillary Clinton’s negotiators agreed to plans for an urgent summit ‘in the first hundred days of the next administration’ where the president will convene ‘the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.’”

There is at least one major part of such a plan that has been developed by Mark Z. Jacobson, “a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and the director of its Atmosphere and Energy Program.” Jacobson has been working on the plan for years “with a team of experts to calculate precisely how each of the 50 states could power itself from renewable resources.” McKibben is convinced that “Jacobson’s work demonstrates conclusively that America could generate 80 to 85 percent of its power from sun, wind, and water by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.” And: In the past year, the Stanford team has offered similar plans for 139 nations around the world.”

There is enough land for the plan to go ahead, that is, it would need only “about four-tenths of one percent of America’s landmass to produce renewable energy, mostly from sprawling solar power stations.” And we have enough raw materials, like neodymium, to make the wind turbines, and enough lithium for batteries to run electric cars.

Implementing such a plan

McKibben refers to Tom Solomon, a retired engineer, “took Jacobon’s research and calculated how much clean energy America would need to produce by 2050 to completely replace fossil fuels. The answer: 6,448 gigawatts.” Here’s how Solomon then preceded, according to McKibben.

“So Solomon did the math to figure out how many factories it would take to produce 6,448 gigawatts of clean energy in the next 35 years. He started by looking at SolarCity, a clean-energy company that is currently building the nation’s biggest solar factory in Buffalo….Using the SolarCity plant as a rough yardstick, Solomon calculates that America needs 295 solar factories of a similar size to defeat climate change – roughly six per state – plus a similar effort for wind turbines.”

The factories don’t require any new technology. They do require good local technical schools that could supply the workforce, local contractors who could get the local permits, order the needed materials, level the ground and excavate, lay foundations, build walls, columns and a roof – “and facilitate each of the stations for factory machine tooling with plumbing, piping, and electrical wiring”; and train a workforce of 1,500.”

Such a massive effort was accomplished during WWII

McKibben is talking about a mobilization of people and resources like that which was done in the first years of WWII. The planning and the implementation of the war-effort was done mostly by the federal government, which “birthed a welter of new agencies with names like the War Production Board and the Defense Plant Corporation, the latter of which, “between 1940 and 1945, spent $9 billion on 2,300 projects in 46 states, building factories it hen leased to private industry.” By the end of the war, “the government had a dominant position in everything from aircraft manufacturing to synthetic rubber production.”

Mark Wilson, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has written book, involving “a decades-long study of the mobilization effort, entitled Destructive Creation. McKibben quotes Wilson, who says “It was public capital that build most of the stuff, not Wall Street.” And, continuing: “They placed the contracts, they moved the stuff around.” McKibben further describes Wilson’s research findings, as follows.

“The feds acted aggressively – they could cancel contracts as war needs changed, tossing factories full of people abruptly out of work. If firms refused to take direction, FDR ordered many of them seized. Though companies made money, there was little in the way of profiteering – bad memories from World War I, Wilson says, led to ‘robust profit controls, which were mostly accepted by America’s industrial tycoons. In many cases, federal authorities purposively set up competition between public operations and private factories: The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard build submarines, but so did Electric Boat of Groton, Connecticut. ‘They were both quite impressive and productive,’ Wilson says.”

How would it start today?

McKibben imagines what a president could do immediately upon taking office.

“Much of what we need to do can – and must – be accomplished immediately, through the use of executive action that FDR relied on to lay the groundwork for a wider mobilization. The president could immediately put a halt to drilling and mining on public lands and waters, which contain at least half of all the untapped carbon left in America. She could slow the build-out of the natural gas system simply be correcting the outmoded way the EPA calculates the warming effect of methane, just as Obama reined in coal-fired power plants. She could tell her various commissioners to put a stop to the federal practice of rubber-stamping new fossil-fuel project, rejecting those that would ‘significantly exacerbate’ global warming. She could instruct every federal agency to buy all their power from green sources and rely exclusively on plug-in cars, creating new markets overnight. She could set a price on carbon for her agencies to follow internally, even without congressional action that probably won’t be forthcoming. And just as FDR brought in experts from the private sector to plan for the defense build-out, she could get the blueprints for a full-scale climate mobilization in place even as she rallies the political will to make them plausible. Without the same urgency and foresight displayed by FDR – without immediate executive action – we will lose the war.”

Concluding thoughts

At this moment in history, we await to see whether Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives will lead to the creation of some of the political groundwork for a transformation of the energy sector, calling for the phasing out of fossil fuels and proposing a plan for a renewable-energy system. There are reasons for some optimism. There is the precedent of WWII war mobilization. There are detailed plans for the conversion of the energy sector to renewables. Some Democrats are calling for a “green new deal.” Newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, representing the 14th Congressional District in New York, has unveiled a plan for a “Green New Deal” (https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal), and there are ideas for how to pay for it (https://huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-green-new-deal-cost-us-5c0042be4b027f1097bda5b). Some states and cities in the U.S. are planning to achieve zero-emissions or significantly reduced emissions over the coming years. A large majority of Americans now agree that climate change is a problem and must be addressed. The cost of solar panels and wind turbines has fallen and is now highly competitive in price.

But, as the reports from the IPPC and US National Climate Assessment indicate, the problem of catastrophic climate change is growing, not declining, and, ominously, we don’t have much time before the problem is irreparable and totally out of control.

The midterm elections: Consolidation of right-wing rule avoided. Now what?

The midterm elections: The consolidation of right-wing rule avoided. Now what?
Bob Sheak, November 12, 2018

The midterm election – overall

Initial tallies indicated that 49 percent of the electorate voted in the 2018 midterm elections. This included an “estimated 113 million people…making this the first midterm in history to exceed over 100 million votes,” according to an article by Jennifer De Pinto (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/record-voter-turnout-in-2018-midterm-elections). Additionally, she writes, “you’d have to go all the way back to 1914 to get a turnout rate above 50 percent.” Turnout in the last midterm elections in 2014 were one of the lowest on record, “with only 36.4 percent of eligible voters participating in the election.” There is a chance that, once all the votes are counted, the number of votes cast will reach or exceed 50 percent. The outpouring of voter participation was about Trump’s presidency, both for and against. But, as the following evidence indicates, Democrats made significant gains in the House, in governors’ races, and in other state-wide offices, while winning some important ballot initiatives. And, as much as anything, this means that the one-party, right-wing government at the federal has been ended and there have been democratic electoral and ballet-initiative victories in the states.

At the same time, Democrats lost ground in the Senate and are unlikely to find many issues that will garner the support of Republicans and overcome partisan gridlock. Amidst it all, Trump is still the president and through his crony appointees exercise great influence over the vast executive branch of the federal government. His core support among tens of millions of Americans appears to be stronger than ever. One recent poll indicates that he has a 46 percent approval rating. Corporate power remains largely unscathed. Few members of either party seriously challenge the military-industrial complex. The President’s foreign policy takes us toward a new cold war with Russia, as he withdraws from treaties governing nuclear weapons and pours money into new nuclear weapons. And we must not forget, the U.S. aggressively approaches relations with North Korea, Iran, and China in ways that deepen mutual antagonisms and the possibility of military conflict. There is still no indication that either party is willing or able to confront adequately the scale and existential threat of the accelerating climate crisis. There is little discussion of phasing out fossil fuels. The right-wing Supreme Court is prepared to undo the reproductive rights of women and, given the opportunity, further eviscerate civil rights, collective bargaining, immigration law, and to consider changes in the U.S. Constitution that would comply with right-wing interests.

The Democrats are left with two years, until the 2020 presidential elections, to build on their limited successes in the midterm elections.

Energizing Democratic voters

On a positive note, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns summarize the midterm results as follows.

“The president unwittingly galvanized a new generation of activism, inspiring hundreds of thousands angered, and a little disoriented, by his unexpected triumph to make their first foray into politics as volunteers and candidates. He also helped ensure that Democratic officeholders would more closely reflect the coalition of their party….

“It was the party’s grass roots, however, that seeded Democratic candidates with unprecedented amounts of small-dollar contributions and dwarfed traditional party fund-raising efforts. The so-called liberal resistance was undergirded by women and people of color and many of them won on Tuesday, including Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, Lauren Underwood in Illinois and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia.”

“Indeed, the coalition of voters that mobilized against Mr. Trump was broad, diverse and somewhat ungainly, taking in young people and minorities who reject his culture-war politics; women appalled by what they see as his misogyny; seniors alarmed by Republican health care policies; and upscale suburban whites who support gun control and environmental regulation as surely as they favor tax cuts. It will now fall to Democrats to forge these disparate communities alienated by the president into a durable electoral base for the 2020 presidential race at a time when their core voters are increasingly tilting left” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/us/politics/midterm-elections-results.html).

Democrats control The House of Representatives

As widely anticipated, Democrats won a majority in the House, but lost ground in the Senate. Writing for Our Future, Robert Borosage analyzes exit poll data and sees a “blue wave with a harsh red undertow” reflected in the numbers (https://ourfuture.org/20181107/2018-midterms-blue-wave-red-undertow). The blue wave, not the strongest, is reflected in the voting for the House of Representatives, where Democrats gained at least 30 seats with the possibility of adding another 7 or so seats. They started out with 193 seats, needed 218 to take control of the House, and surpassed that number in the elections, bringing their total to at least 225. As of Nov 9, according to Ballotpedia, “Democrats had gained a net total of 32 seats,” while there are “still eight competitive races where a winner has not been declared.” So, the only outstanding issue is how large the Democratic majority will be in the House, the outcome of which awaits the result of the “eight competitive races” yet to be decided.

In an article for The New York Times, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report that enthusiasm among Democrats help to explain the large turnout (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/us/politics/midterm-elections-results.html). They write: “…the Democrats’ House takeover represented a clarion call that a majority of the country wants to see limits on Mr. Trump for the next two years of his term. With the opposition [the Democrats] now wielding subpoena power and the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, still looming, the president is facing a drastically more hostile political environment in the lead up to his re-election.”

The results in the Senate were not as good, where Republicans gained a net of one seat, increasing their majority from 52 to 53, leaving the Democrats with 47. This is unfortunate in that it gives the Republicans the power to confirm Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, to veto legislation supported by the Democratically-controlled House, and to stop any impeachment initiative coming from the House.

What Democrats can accomplish

Democratic-control of the House does give Democrats the opportunity to stop Senate legislation that would further reduce taxes on the rich and corporations or subvert government programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety-net programs. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is likely to be less challenged by Republicans due to the widely popular issue of pre-existing health conditions, an issue that generated huge support for Democrats. Though Republicans are likely to oppose any attempts to improve the ACA (e.g., imposing regulations on rising health insurance and prescription drugs). The House under Democratic control will also be able to gather information through its subpoena power or, more likely, by holding hearings about Trump’s links to Russia and whether the president has obstructed the investigation into these issues by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Generally, Democrats can hold hearings that focus attention on the party’s issues and that help educate the public. In the meantime, we have as a bitterly divided country that has just barely moved away from the continuation of a right-wing, one-party government headed by a narcissistic and reckless president.

The People for the American Way sent out an email following the midterm election that points to a “defensive strategy,” somewhat like the one I just described in the previous paragraph. It outlines succinctly what the House Democrats can accomplish. Here it is. (Their website: http://www.pfaw.org/action-center.)

“Because Democrats took back the House, our democracy has survived (at least for another two years) — we FINALLY have a meaningful check on the Trump administration’s lawlessness and corruption, and we can finally have some accountability…

“Because Democrats took back the House, the social safety net survives – we know that Social Security and Medicare would have been targeted for utter destruction had Republicans retained full control of Congress…

“Because Democrats took back the House, Republicans won’t fully be able to do away with the Affordable Care Act, at least legislatively…

“Because Democrats took back the House, Trump and his far-right allies won’t be able to pass another massive tax scam that shifts all of our nation’s wealth upward to corporations and the GOP’s billionaire donors…

“And because Democrats took back the House, Democrats now have a chance to show America a real alternative vision to Trump’s agenda of bigotry, division, and right-wing extremism. Already we see positive signs that Democrats are going to focus on desperately needed reforms that are immensely important to and popular with a vast majority of Americans, and that put Democrats in stark contrast with the extremist GOP. It’s health care, of course, but it’s also anti-corruption measures and ethics reform; infrastructure and jobs; and democracy reforms to address big money in politics and voting rights. We’ll be working hard to mobilize a grassroots movement over the coming weeks to make sure this agenda is prioritized in the first days of the 116th Congress.”
What else do Democrats in the House plan?

In an article for The New York Times, Nicholas Fandos, reports that “Democratic leaders say they would use their first month in the House majority to advance sweeping changes to future campaign and ethics laws, requiring disclosure of shadowy political donors, outlawing gerrymandering of congressional districts and restoring key enforcement provisions to the Voting Rights Act.” They will “work to improve the Affordable Care Act,” “prepare an onslaught of investigations into alleged malfeasance by the president and his administration,” prepare a more liberal and detailed $1 trillion infrastructure package, and, among other items, “’prepare the way with evidence’ for energy conservation and other climate change mitigation legislation” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/07/us/politics/house-democrats-nancy-pelosi.html).

Democrats at the state level

Zach Montellaro reports that “Democrats flipped governorships in seven states Tuesday, installing governors poised to play key roles in the next redistricting process in 2021 and 2022 — but Republicans held onto several major states, giving no party a clear leg up two years ahead of the census.” Prior to the elections on November 6, there were 33 Republican governors, 16 Democratic, and 1 Independent. Not all were up for election. Democrats won the governor’s races over Republican opponents in Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan though Republicans retain control of the state legislative houses. In Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico, Democrats now have full control over state government. Overall, there are now 23 Democratic governors, up from 16. These numbers are in some cases not the final ones. In contested races, the Republicans held onto Indiana and Missouri, while the results in Georgia and Florida appear to be unresolved and possibly requiring a recount of the votes. All these results indicate that Democrats will have some increased influence in state-level policies, including over congressional redistricting decisions in 2020, because of their success in the midterm elections. The states under Democratic control can now become what Borosage refers to as “laboratories of democracy.”

Redistricting

I received an email from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee on Friday, November 9, that the 2018 election had dealt a “body blow to partisan gerrymandering (info@democraticredistricting.com). The email included evidence that Democrats had made gains in state legislatures, namely:

• Democrats flipped six legislative chambers: Colorado Senate, Maine Senate, Minnesota House, New Hampshire House and Senate, and New York Senate
• Democrats broke supermajorities in four chambers: North Carolina House and Senate, Michigan Senate, and Pennsylvania Senate
• Democrats made addition gains in seven legislative chambers: Ohio House and Senate, Michigan House, Texas House and Senate, and Pennsylvania House and Senate

According to Montellaro’s report (cited previously), “Colorado and Michigan also passed ballot measures, supported by the NDRC [National Democratic Redistricting Committee], that transferred redistricting power from legislators and governors to independent commissions. (Democrats also elected new governors in both states, ending unified GOP control over Michigan’s state government.) The results represent progress for Democrats since 2010, when Michigan and Wisconsin — along with Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was reelected — were three states where GOP-controlled redistricting after the 2010 census hit Democrats especially hard, but Tuesday’s results guaranteed Republicans won’t have unified control in those states this time. Another ballot measure to establish a redistricting commission in Utah is too close to call.

At the same time, Montellaro points out that “Democratic gubernatorial candidates were reported to fall short in Ohio and Florida [though there is a recount in Florida], with dozens of congressional districts between them, and Democrat Stacey Abrams currently trails in Georgia, though her campaign believes late-counted ballots could lead to a December runoff. The Republican Party has trifectas [the state house and both legislative branches] in all three of those states. And reelection wins by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan could give Republicans a seat at the table in those Democratic-dominated states during the next redistricting process.” The latest news is that there are likely to be recounts for the Senate and governor’s races in Florida and Arizona, as well as in Georgia.

An overview of ballot initiatives

Negin Owliaei gives us a detailed breakdown on ballot initiatives. He reports: “Voters weighed in on a host of high-profile issues and, for the most part, passed measures to protect and expand the rights of people across the country” (https://inequality.org/great-divide/2018-midterms-ballot-initiatives-breakdown). In Florida, the voters “repealed a Jim-Crow-era disenfranchisement law, with a 64 percent favorable vote, that restores access to voting rights to as many as 1.4 million people convicted of felonies who have done their time in prison, probation, parole, etc. In Arkansas and Missouri, voters supported modest increases in the minimum wage, which will affect “a combined one million workers.” The minimum wage in Arkansas will increased from $8.50 to $11 by 2021 and in Missouri from $7.85 to $12 by 2023. In Massachusetts, voters “upheld a law protecting the rights of trans people in public accommodations.” Voters in Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Idaho “passed Medicaid expansion initiatives,” giving an additional 300,000 people medical coverage. In Colorado, “65 percent of voters who said yes to A,” the state “officially abolished slavery as a form of punishment by removing a clause in the state’s constitution that kept it legal for those convicted of a crime.” A handful of cities in California “successfully voted in policies to address the affordable housing and homelessness crisis.” For example, “Oakland passed a slew of measures to make housing more equitable, including increased renter protections from eviction, a vacancy tax on properties used less than 50 days a year, and a change in the property tax structure to ensure high-end homeowners play their fair share.”

The climate crisis

James Rainey reports on NBC News on ballot measures regarding global warming (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mixed-vote-global-warming-ballot-measures-lose-democrats-gain-power-n933766). His overall interpretation of the relevant ballot initiatives is that “[e]vironmentalists lost high-profile ballot fights this week to combat climate change and promote conservation.” He continues: “But they took heart that new Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives and several governorships could pave the way for future victories against fossil fuels and global warming.” However, the victorious initiatives to which he refers are so modest as to be of little help in stemming the continuing rise in global warming.

The biggest defeat “came in Washington state, where a measure to tax carbon dioxide emissions lost 56 percent to 44 percent, despite backing from a broad coalition of Democratic, environmental, union and Native American groups.” And there were other setbacks. “Arizona voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would have required the state to get half its power from renewable energy like wind and solar power by 2030.” In Colorado, rules that would have pushed oil and gas drilling substantially farther from homes, businesses, streams and rivers were defeated 57 percent to 43 percent. And in Alaska, a “Stand for Salmon” initiative aimed at protecting the state’s favorite game fish lost 64 percent to 36 percent. Rainey points to two victories. In Nevada, voters approved a measure to require the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from green sources by 2030 with 59 percent of the vote. And “Georgia passed “an amendment…to put 90 percent of sales taxes on sporting goods toward conservation efforts,” with the “estimated $200 million collected over a decade” helping to “create parks and protect wildlife habitat.”

Gun Control

Based on a review of initiatives on gun control, German Lopez draws this conclusion: “Gun control advocates didn’t get all the wins they were hoping for on Election Day, but all in all, the 2018 midterm elections were pretty good for supporters of strong gun laws” (https://www.vox.com/2018/11/07/180721461/midterm-election-gun-control-ballot-initiative-congress-results). Lopez identifies some positive movement at the state level. A statewide ballot initiative in Washington State curtailing access to assault rifles won. Democrats in the House representing Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Colorado, South Carolina, and Kansas displeased the National Rifle Association so much that they were given an F or low rating by the NRA. There were Democrats who ran their elections with strong emphasis on the need for gun regulation. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican “signed a gun control package into law that expanded background checks and lets officials take guns from people deemed at risk for violence, among other changes.”

Attorney general races and fossil fuels

There were, moreover, important races for the position of attorney general in the states. Alexander C. Kaufman reports on these races in an article for Huffington Post, with particular attention to how Democratic attorney generals are challenging fossil fuel corporations (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/midterms-democrats-attorney-general-climate-lawsuits_us_5be5f199e4b0e8438897aa58). Here’s the thrust of what he writes.

“Democrats scored a string of state attorney general victories on Tuesday night, ousting loyal oil and gas allies and threatening to add to mounting lawsuits against the industry over climate change.

“The party flipped four states and held 13, re-electing incumbents in seven of them. in an election sweep that secured Democrats 27 states that represent over 58 percent of the U.S. population and 63 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The top-cop posts are considered the “most effective way” to challenge President Donald Trump’s environmental agenda.

“During the Obama administration, Republican attorneys general became a fearsome opposition force, coalescing around legal challenges to landmark power plant, health care and water regulations. The new Democratic majority comes as the party’s rising stars are already jockeying to make names for themselves by sparring with the Trump administration.”

Kaufman reports that Rhode Island and New York are already suing oil companies. And, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Colorado, Democrats won on initiatives to challenge oil companies, despite the industry spending over $100 million to defeat them.

It remains to be seen whether initiatives and legal challenges such as those to which Kaufman refers will succeed enough to reduce carbon emissions. However, the record shows that the financial penalties from legal suits can easily be absorbed financially by the oil industry. Nonetheless, the legal approach may be important as one part of a larger strategy, but it is time-consuming and expensive and does not have any direct effect on reducing oil production and the emissions that accompanies it. And, if such suits end up in the right-wing Supreme Court, the industry will prevail over any challenge by environmentalists.

Concluding thoughts

The elections leave us with a complex set of legislative arrangements and the prospect of considerable gridlock, especially at the federal level. At the same time, Democrats are now in a better position to influence policies in more states than they were before the elections. Borosage provides a summary of the outcomes that is consistent with the evidence reviewed in my essay: “Democrats took the House, moving towards flipping over 30 seats, took seven gubernatorial races and counting, and made significant gains in down-ballot races –winning over 330 state legislative seats, six state legislatures and breaking 4 GOP supermajorities, with more victories to com.” Okay, breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, Trump and the Republicans will control a lot more than the Democrats will.

There is good news. At the national level, House Democrats may well be able to defend important and popular programs, stymie advances in the Republican agenda, and protect Mueller’s investigations. And Democratic political forces at the state level may be able to have a decisive influence on redistricting, on some climate and environmental issues, on whether to adopt Medicaid expansion, on imposing regulations of oil and gas corporations, on opposing “right to work” laws, on raising state minimum wage laws, and more.

But the overall situation is not so good and there is not a lot of time. In one of Dahr Jamail’s recent (Nov. 2, 2018) highly informative reviews of developments on anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), he refers to the new U.N. Report that warns of impending climate catastrophe (https://truthout.org/articles/new-un-report-warns-of-impending-catastrophes-as-world-warms-glaciers-melt). Here is what he writes.

“The biggest news in the corporate media regarding climate change since my last dispatch has been the UN report stating that we have 12 years left to limit a full-on climate change catastrophe. To avoid this fate, we would need to spend those 12 years curbing global emissions dramatically. Essentially, there would need to be a government-mandated plan across the globe that would enable us to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade (1.5°C) rather than the 2°C goal of the 2015 Paris climate talks. Eliminating that extra .5 of warming would save tens of millions of people from sea level rise inundation, and hundreds of millions from water scarcity and a myriad of other catastrophic impacts. Limiting warming to 1.5°C would, scientists have said, require a radical rethinking of virtually every facet of modern society, including an abandonment of our entire fossil-fuel based economy. However, currently, we are headed for at least a 3°C increase by 2100, with no mass government mobilization in sight.”

The implication of the U.N. report is that the ice cover in the polar regions, in Greenland, and on mountain tops will continue to shrink, the ocean levels will rise, desertification and draughts will ravage forests and soils, disrupting agriculture around the world, severe weather events will increase in frequency and intensity, some parts of the world will become uninhabitable due to high and humid temperatures, and the number of environmental refugees will soar. There is a lot more to be concerned about. Here’s one example from Jamail’s article.

“A recent study in a paper published August 31 in the journal Science warned that for each degree of rise in global temperature, insect-driven losses to the staple crops of rice, wheat and corn increase by 10-25 percent. Given we are already at 1.1°C warming, we are already seeing these losses, which are sure to increase. ‘In 2016, the United Nations estimated that at least 815 million people worldwide don’t get enough to eat,’ the University of Washington Press wrote of the study. “Corn, rice and wheat are staple crops for about 4 billion people, and account for about two-thirds of the food energy intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.”

“At the same time, scientists are deeply concerned about the fact that non-pest insect numbers are declining rapidly. Bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs and other insects are far less abundant, and scientists around the world warn that these insects are crucial to as much as 80 percent of all the food we eat. ‘You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects,’ University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy told the AP.”

The upshot?

We can appreciate the great efforts that went into the Democratic electoral victories, and hope they are but a first step toward achieving a more rational, just, and humane political system that will usher in societal transformation that we need. Right now, though, we have a long way to go electorally. Still, the door is not closed.

Let me close by quoting David Korten’s bold agenda in an article recently published in Yes magazine titled “Why I have hope in the face of human extinction” (https://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/why-i-have-hope-in-the-face-of-human-extinction-20181101). Something like this kind of agenda seems appropriate, given the dire conditions we face. It perhaps calls for far more than we can expect, given political and economic realities. Korten insists that it is a “hopeful” agenda, that is, one that is feasible – with considerable luck and effort.

“We humans now have the knowledge and technology to move beyond the violence, fear, and daily struggle for survival that besets the lives of so many. We have the capacity to secure a world of peace, beauty, diversity, creativity, material sufficiency, and spiritual abundance for all people, and have all that in balance with Earth’s ecosystems. Achieving such a goal requires that we make this vision our common goal and transform our cultural narratives, institutions, and infrastructure accordingly—a steep but imperative challenge.

“Success requires leadership from all levels of society, including from people everywhere working to grow community-facilitating cultural values, institutions, and infrastructure in the places where they live. Together we need to achieve four conditions critical to the transition.

“1. Earth balance. We must reduce humanity’s total environmental burden to bring us into sustainable balance with the capacity of Earth’s generative systems. This requires immediate action to eliminate nonessential consumption—including fossil fuels and weaponry. Longer-term action is needed to create institutional and physical structures that make doing the right thing easy and enjoyable—for example, designing urban environments to make the essentials of daily living readily accessible by biking, or walking in safe and pleasant neighborhoods connected by convenient mass transit.

“2. Equitable distribution. We must achieve an equitable distribution of wealth and power. Immediate action is required to stop the further concentration of wealth while advancing equitable cooperative ownership, restoring the commons, and connecting the rights of ownership with corresponding responsibilities.

“3. Life-serving technologies. We must advance technologies that strengthen rather than impair life’s regenerative capacity. Immediate action is required to roll back use of harmful technologies, including the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and our dependence on carbon and nuclear energy. Longer-term action is needed to develop and apply technologies that better meet human needs while simultaneously restoring the environment, such as developing greener agricultural practices and creating buildings designed for natural heating and cooling.

“4. Living communities. We must rebuild relationships of people to one another and to nature to create strong, healthy, deeply democratic living communities. This will involve reducing dependence on money while encouraging sharing and mutual self-help in the places where people live. Immediate action is required to block further concentration of corporate power, while taking longer-term steps to break up existing concentrations, secure the accountability of governments to the people, advance equitable participation in local cooperative ownership and shared housing, and establish rules that assure the accountability of businesses to the communities in which they operate.

“The transition will test the limits of human creativity, social intelligence, and commitment to collaborate in the face of relentless establishment opposition. We now equate money to wealth and see making money as the key to well-being and happiness. In doing so, we ignore the reality that we are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth. Money is merely a number that has no intrinsic value. To destroy life only so that the financial assets of billionaires can grow is a monumental act of collective stupidity.

“Forward-looking communities around the world are engaged in advancing these transformations on both micro and macro scales. Their activities must become the norm everywhere, with all peoples and governments freely sharing the lessons of their efforts to develop proven, deeply democratic approaches to local self-reliance and liberation from corporate rule. The well-being of people and planet will rise, as corporate profits fall.

“It is time to unite as families, communities, and nations in our common identity as members of an ecological civilization, with a commitment to creating the possible world of our shared human dream.”

Obstacles to meaningful change

Obstacles to meaningful change

Bob Sheak, Oct 23, 2018

The consolidation of right-wing power

It’s no secret what Trump, the Republican party, the mega-corporations, many or most of the rich, Fox News and other right-wing media, along with tens of millions of Trump/Republican supporters want. Note that this is a huge slice of society, and with the corporations controlling huge financial, productive, and physical resources. A glimpse at the 2018 Fortune 500 list is illustrative. According to the Fortune website, “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP with $12.8 trillion in revenues, $1.0 trillion in profits, $21.6 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide.” Walmart and Exxon Mobil were first and second on the list, Walmart with over $500 billion in revenues and Exxon Mobil with $244,363,000,000. And there is little doubt that most of those who are corporate CEOs and others who have powerful positions in the economic-political system, like the status quo and whatever policies stand to protect and enhance their privileges and power. This is true of the rich generally. Take little regulated hedge fund operators who profit from speculative investing that adds no real value to the economy. Les Leopold wrote a book in 2013 on this subject with the revealing titled How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning off America’s Wealth.

Anand Giridharadas, author, previous columnist for the New York Times, who teaches at New York University, offers a concise explication of what corporations and rich want.

“These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform” (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, p. 30)

Money in Politics

There is no doubt that corporations and wealthy donors contribute significantly to campaign contributions and lobbying at both the federal and state levels. In his recent book, Can American Capitalism Survive? Steven Pearlstein offers these facts.

“Nearly $7 billion was spent to influence the results of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections in the United States, up from $3 billion in the 2000 election cycle. To that we must add another $3 billion a year that corporations and industry associations now spend on lobbying, double what it was 20 years ago.

He continues.

“This escalation in spending is partly the result of court rulings that have chipped away at limits on what individuals and corporations can donate and spent to support policies and candidates they favor and oppose those they do not. But it is also a result of the upward shift in the distribution of income. When a small network of billionaires headed by brothers Charles and David Koch is both able and will to spend $800 million in a single election cycle, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the United States has crossed the line into plutocracy” (pp. 157-158).

And Robert Reich adds:

“By the 2016 campaign cycle, corporations and Wall Street contributed $34 for every $1 donated by labor unions and all public interest organizations combined” (The Common Good, p. 84).

Looking back to the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Larry Lessig reminds us:

“0.26 percent of us give more than $200 to congressional campaigns, 0.05 percent of us max out to any congressional candidate, and 0.01 percent spend more than $10,000 in a campaign. These figures are from the 2010 election cycle; in the 2012 elections, the number of those given $200 or more to congressional candidates actually shot up dramatically (to 0.53% of the U.S. adult population.) To be a viable candidate in federal elections, one essentially needs to secure the approval – in the form of dollars – of a group that is far more elite even than the top one percent” (quoted by Richard L. Hasen, Plutocrats United, p. 40).

Pearlstein refers to similar data from the research of professor Nick Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago, who finds:

“…surveys… all have found that individuals who contribute at least $200 to federal candidates are ‘overwhelmingly wealthy, highly educated, male, and white.’ In 2004, for example, 58% of those donors were male, 69% were older than fifty, 78% had a family income over $100,000, and 91% had a college degree. In 2012, these donors amounted to just 0.4% of the population, but supplied 64% of the funds received by candidates from individuals…. [and] study after study has concluded that donors hold more extreme views than the public at large” (p. 43).

Recent Supreme Court decisions have made it easier for big donors to hide their identities by creating “super PACs” that do not require the disclosure of the donors. Hasen refers to research on this issue.

“According to a report by Demos and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, in the 2012 elections ‘nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93% of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000 – from just 3,318 donors or the equivalent of 0.0011% of the U.S. population” (p. 44).

What they get

The corporate-connected donors get access to legislators and sometimes appointments to the President’s cabinet or other policy-influencing positions in the executive branch. See John Nichols’ book, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse for Trump’s appointments to “cabinet secretaries and assistants, commissioners and counselors, blood relatives and retainers, billionaire ‘advisers’ and unindicted co-conspirators.” For example, billionaire Betsy DeVos was nominated and confirmed by the Senate to be the Secretary of Education. Nichols quotes Elizabeth Warren on the decision. “It is hard to imagine a candidate less qualified or more dangerous.” According to Nichols: “…she had never taught in a public school and nor had she administered one. No. she had not served on an elected school board. No, she had not sent her children to public schools. No, she had never applied for a student loan and nor had her children” (p. 4). This is an agency, which in 2017, had “a budget of $70 billion, more than four thousand employees and responsibility for serving 50 million students in 16,900 school districts nationwide, along with 13 million post-secondary students” (p. 3).

Over the years, DeVos and her family had contributed $200 million to the Republican Party. And she has spent a great deal of time and money advocating for profit-based charter schools, which is in sync with the long-standing Republican position on privatization of education and other government functions. On the issue of education policy, Nichols writes that Betsy DeVos “was delighted that the Trump administration’s [2018] budget blueprint called for steering $1.4 billion toward the gimmicky ‘school choice’ programs that she had championed for decades as an alternative to public education – and that the historian of education… Diane Ravitch decries as a ‘hoax’ that destroys communities and destroys public schools” (p. 252).

Much more

 The bailouts and hidden subsidies

Wall Street banks, which were the main causes of the Great Recession in 2007-2009, got huge bailouts, even though their reckless policies caused the recession. Nomi Prins points out that banks obtained a $13 trillion bailout, “doled out from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to back to biggest players on Wall Street, “while leaving the banking and investment structures intact” (It Takes a Pillage, p. 5). The auto industry was given emergency government loans in 2008. Prins points out: “As of late April 2009, the Treasury had poured a total of $32.7 billion in total loans to General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler Holding, and Chrysler Financial to help the firms avoid bankruptcy….” (p. 73). This was part of an $800 “stimulus package” initiated by the Obama administration. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy enabled the banks to unload toxic, worthless securities on the public. James K. Galbraith comments on this: “the Federal Reserve pursued its programs of ‘quantitative easing,’ which were ongoing purchases of mortgage-backed securities.” He continues: “While this program was touted as support for the economy, its obvious first-order effect was to help the banks clean up their books and to bury potentially damaging home loans deep in the vaults of the Fed itself, where they might – or might not – eventually be paid” (The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, p. 184).

The big tax cut

Trump and the Republicans pushed through a tax law in December 2017 that significantly reduced corporate taxes, from 35% to 21%, and gave the rich disproportionate tax breaks. Rather than new investment and jobs, much of the corporate tax bonanza was spent on buying back stocks in corporations to increase their value, buying up other companies, or investing abroad. Citing a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Julia Conley summarizes various findings of the tax cut effects as follows: “The GOP’s promises that companies would boost hiring and salaries after receiving their tax cuts have been proven categorically false since the beginning of the year, with just six percent of companies’ windfall going to employees’ wages and the vast majority rewarding wealthy shareholders.” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/07/24/no-evidence-goptaxscam-has-benefited-most-americas-republicans-unveil-plan-double).”

Economist Dean Baker finds that the tax cut did not lead to increased domestic investment.

“…when we’re actually looking post-tax cut, you know, what has happened since the tax cut was passed or was known it would be passed, we look at the data we have from January and February [2018], and there’s nothing going on there. The data on durable goods or capital goods orders, so this is what companies are ordering by way of new investment equipment, that’s actually down slightly in January and February. I wouldn’t make a big point of it being down. But the point is they had projected, the Trump administration had projected a huge rise in investment, and we are certainly not seeing that.

“Another measure, the National Federation of Independent Business, has a monthly survey of its members that they have been doing for more than 30 years now, and they asked them, do they expect to increase capital expenditures over the next 3 to 6 months? And again, here, too, we have data, January and February, nothing. It’s maybe a very, very modest uptick, but it’s back to levels we saw last year, as far back as 2014” (http://therealnews.com/t2/story:21368:Economic-Benefits-of-Tax-Cuts-Should-Have-Arrived—Where-Are-They%3F).

The military-industrial complex

The big arms producers got a boost from increases in the 2018 and 2019 military budgets, going up over a trillion dollars when all military-related expenditures in the federal budget are included, that is the $700-plus basic Pentagon allocation, veteran’s benefits, nuclear-weapons’ programs in the Department of Energy, money for the fight against terrorism abroad and domestically, and annual interest related to budget deficits related to military-related interventions and war. Kimberly Amadea identifies four components in her analysis of the 2018FY military budget (https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-military-budgetcomonents-challenges-growth-3306320)

First, she refers to the $616.9 billion “base budget for the Department of Defense.” Second, $69 billion is allocated to the “overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State Group.” Third, $181.3 billion goes to the Department of Veterans Affairs ($83.1 billion), the State Department ($28.3 billion), Homeland Security ($46 billion) and the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($21.9 billion). The fourth and last component identified by Amadea is “$18.7 billion in OCO funds for the State Department and Homeland Security to fight ISIS.” The total of all components is about $890 billion. Her estimates do not include military-related interest on the debt. This is significant. Note that the 2018 budget deficit rose to $779 billion, and some part of it was related to the massive increase in military spending. If the interest related to military spending is added to the other components of military-related spending, the total goes well beyond $1 trillion. This benefits the arms makers, their employees, and the Pentagon above all.

William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex and other books and many articles, gives us some details on how the top weapons contractors will fair (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/17/how-pentagon-devours-budget). He writes:

“…contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).

“And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate.  According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States.  In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.

“Items that snagged billions in new funding in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget included Lockheed Martin’s overpriced, underperforming F-35 aircraft, at $10.6 billion; Boeing’s F-18 “Super Hornet,” which was in the process of being phased out by the Obama administration but is now written in for $2.4 billion; Northrop Grumman’s B-21 nuclear bomber at $2.3 billion; General Dynamics’ Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine at $3.9 billion; and $12 billion for an array of missile-defense programs that will redound to the benefit of… you guessed it: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, among other companies.  These are just a few of the dozens of weapons programs that will be feeding the bottom lines of such companies in the next two years and beyond.  For programs still in their early stages, like that new bomber and the new ballistic missile submarine, their banner budgetary years are yet to come.

“In explaining the flood of funding that enables a company like Lockheed Martin to reap $35 billion per year in government dollars, defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Groupnoted that ‘diplomacy is out; air strikes are in… In this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs. If demand goes up, prices don’t generally come down. And, of course, it’s virtually impossible to kill stuff. You don’t have to make any kind of tough choices when there’s such a rising tide.’”

Other profitable sectors with dubious societal benefits

The prices of pharmaceuticals continued to rise, boosting the profits of pharmaceutical corporations and, when coupled with rising insurance rates, making it financially difficult for tens of millions of Americans to obtain adequate or any health care. Oil and gas corporations continue to do well and are given more opportunities by the Trump administration to lease and mine for oil and gas off the U.S. coastline, off Alaska, and on national parks, despite warnings of how fossil-fuel emissions contribute to ever more dire global warming.

CEO compensation soars, while average employee/worker earnings stay flat

Corporate CEOs earn hundreds of times more than their average employees and the gap is rising. Chuck Collins gives us this fact: “In the mid-1960s, the ratio of CEO pay and average worker pay was about 20:1. In recent years, the ratio has swollen to more than 300:1” (Is Inequality in America irreversible?, p. 7). Furthermore, Collins points out: “Between 1980 and 2013, the richest 1 percent saw their average real income increase by 142 percent, with their share of national income doubling from 10 percent to 20 percent.” And: “Since the economic meltdown of 2008, an estimated $91 of every $100 in increased earnings have gone to the top 1 percent” (p. 8).

Wages overall continue to stagnate, despite rising productivity. Union membership among private-sector workers is down to less than 7 percent. The federal minimum wage continues to erode. Here’s one fact from Collins book: “In 1970, the bottom half of wage earners, roughly 117 million adults, made an average of $16,000 a year in current dollars. By 2014, earnings for the bottom half of households had remained virtually unchanged, bumping up slightly to $16,200” (p. 6). To pin down this point, Collins notes that “[h]alf of US jobs pay less than $15 an hour and 41 million workers earn under $12 an hour, or less than $25,000 a year” (p. 18).

Some good news on Democrats and fund raising

Some reports indicate that Democratic Party and supportive PACs good news are outspending their Republican counterparts in the 2018 mid-term elections and related spending. According to Open Secrets, “The Center for Responsive Politics projects that more than $5 billion will be spent during the 2018” and “Democrats will spend nearly $300 million more than Republicans — $2.5 billion to $2.2 billion. If current trends continue, Blue will outspend Red for the first time in 10 years” (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/10/cost-of-2018-election).

Of course, this trend add to the information that the Democrats are likely to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, some 10 or so governorships, and perhaps a number of state legislatures and municipal governments. However, if such anticipated Democratic victories come to pass, this would be an indication that a majority of voters are fed up with Trump/Republican policies and corruption. At the same time, it’s not clear how far Democratic officeholders would be able or willing to bend the arc away from the current right-wing agenda.

The abundance of right-wing constituencies beyond the corporate CEOs and billionaires

The right-wing side of the political divide also includes many evangelicals who want America to be a Christian nation and want a Supreme Court and federal judiciary in the hands of ultra-conservative justices. It includes xenophobes, super-patriots, white nationalists and white supremacists, and those who want the government to quash the LBGTQ community, those who oppose the reproductive rights of women, and those who hold an absolutist position on unrestricted access to and ownership of guns, even high-powered assault weapons.

They stick with Trump despite his lies and flip flops

They tolerate or admire the malicious narcissism of Trump, despite his unending stream of lies and his appointments of Wall Street and corporate executives to key positions in his administration, just the opposite of “draining the swamp.”

They don’t seem to care that the revelations that much of Trump’s personal wealth stems from his father’s real estate ventures and from tax evasion and fraud. This story is told in well-documented detail by David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner in a long article for the New York Times. They write:

“Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

“But the Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

“Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.” (https://www,nytimes.com/interative/2018/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-tax-schemes-fred-trump.html).

They like Trump’s rejection of climate science and evidence-based discourse generally, unless it comes from right-wing “experts.” They like his efforts to delegitimize the media with his unceasing claims of “fake news.” They like his statements at rallies that encourage violence against his opponents in the crowd. They like Republican efforts to systematically suppress the vote of those who tend to support Democrats. They don’t mind government actions to suppress dissent generally.

There are several reports that indicate Trump’s supporters remain unflagging in their support, despite criticisms of the president. Writing for The New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters reports that “dozens of Trump voters, as well as pollsters and strategists, described something like a bonding experience with the president that happens each time Republicans have to answer a now-familiar question: ‘How can you possibly still support this man?’” One possible electoral consequence: “Their resilience suggests a level of unity among Republicans that could help mitigate Mr. Trump’s low overall approval ratings and aid his party’s chances of keeping control of the House of Representatives in November.” And:

“Republican voters repeatedly described an instinctive, protective response to the president, and their support has grown in recent months: Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is now about 90 percent. And while polling has yet to capture the effect of the last week’s immigration controversy, the only modern Republican president more popular with his party than Mr. Trump at this point in his first term, according to Gallup, was George W. Bush after the country united in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/politics/republican-voters-trump.html).

Further, it remains to be seen whether the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh will lead more women, including Republican women voters, to withdraw their support of Trump and the Republicans and throw their support of Democratic candidates. This story is still unfolding. But, according to a report by Christopher Cadelago for Politico,

“White House aides and allies conceded that throughout the touch-and-go confirmation battle, they weren’t sure whether Kavanaugh would hold on in the face of the sexual assault allegations and the prevailing #MeToo movement that has swept the country for more than a year. But with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) coming out in support of Kavanaugh Friday afternoon — giving the judge enough votes to get through — Trump’s gamble to stand with him has conservatives feeling like they narrowly escaped catastrophe” (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/05/kavanaugh-confirmation-trumps-base-876298).

Cadelago also reports that White House officials and Republican pollsters are upbeat about what their polling indicates after reviewing polling that shows a narrowing of the “so-called enthusiasm gap between Republicans and already motivated Democrats in key states. And they are encouraged by a surge in fundraising over the final week in September.

The right-wing forces and their agenda going forward

They want further dismantling of the welfare state, keeping taxes low, deregulating government agencies, undermining collective bargaining, privatizing as many government functions as they can, building up an already inflated military, promoting a hyper nationalistic and militaristic “America first,” foreign policy to protect “the homeland,” threatening war with Iran, supporting dictators, ignoring the genocides in Gaza and Yemen, and going along with the continuation of a vast network of U.S. military bases around the world, while withdrawing, weakening, or attacking a host of international agreements and UN programs under the slogan of “America first.” And, most disturbing, their support for buttressing the fossil-fuel dominated energy system continues unabated, even after the most recent report by the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) documenting that catastrophic effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions will destabilize human societies across the globe. Jon Queally reports:

“If the latest warnings contained in Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which included pronouncements that the world has less than twelve years to drastically alter course to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused global warming and that nothing less than keeping all fossil fuels in the ground is the solution to avoid future calamities—have you at all frightened or despondent, experts responding to the report have a potentially unwelcome message for your already over-burdened heart and mind: It’s very likely even worse than you’re being told.” Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate is quoted: “The IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/09/whats-not-latest-terrifying-ipcc-report-much-much-more-terrifying-new-research).

You can find an informative summary of the report on the IPCC website at: https://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events?pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml.

There is more. They favor or are content to go along with the President and other Republican leaders in accepting unprecedented corporate concentration in industry after industry by a few mega corporations. Anti-trust enforcement is becoming an historic relic. They welcome or have no idea of the disproportionate political power that such corporations wield on elections, from lobbying, and in the appointments by the president to policy-influencing positions in the executive branch of government. They accept the views that what really matters are reducing government interference in their lives and allowing an unfettered capitalist system and the corporate-dominated private sector to flourish. The questionable assumption here is that such a political-economic system produces optimal economic growth and benefits that trickle down to most people. Will the next economic recession rupture the Republican base? And it remains to be seen whether Trump’s base of support will splinter over issues such as “pre-existing conditions” and the anticipated Republican plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and the rising costs of housing and education.

The right-wing version on inequality – and the poor, struggling workers, and unions

They have a self-serving Social Darwinist twist on inequality. Those with wealth and power are believed to have earned what they have because of superior intelligence, extraordinary ingenuity, and/or hard work. Why do Trump’s non-rich constituencies go along and seem little concerned about increasing inequality? There are many reasons, but one that stands out is that many of them are doing okay financially, if not doing very well.

Blaming the poor justifies helps to legitimate political and institutional inequalities

Overall, the right wing assumes that the poor are themselves responsible for their situation. How could it be otherwise if people are believed to sort themselves out in the society’s income and wealth hierarchies according to merit and there is assumed to be -at least for the present – a plenitude of, if not equally available, opportunities. So, given these assumptions – other parts of the agenda fall logically in place. They support policies that reduce benefits for those who do not have the means to acquire necessities. They pay little attention to the under-funding of schools in districts with high concentrations of poor households. The issue here is that they rely on property taxes in communities with low property values and little or no industry. Steven Pearlstein documents this point as follows:

“According to the Education Law Center’s 2014 annual report, in only 14 states do schools with high concentrations of poverty households get more in pupil funding than districts with no students in poverty. The rest either have regressive state and local funding structures, with high poverty schools receiving less per pupil than no-poverty schools (19 states), or are neither regressive nor progressive (15 states). Analysis from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development indicates that, among advanced economists, only the United States, Turkey and Israel have school funding structures that are this regressive” (Can American Capitalism Survive?, pp. 112-113).

They claim there are plenty of jobs, but ignore that many don’t pay a living wage

The right-wing adherents also argue that there are plenty of jobs available everywhere and therefore poverty can be avoided if only people who work and have no need for welfare. They disregard facts about employment. The economy is filled with low-wage jobs, less-than-full-time jobs, jobs that have little security, and jobs that offer no benefits. And they ignore how many poor people do work, cycling in out of poverty, as they work when there are available jobs for which they are qualified and fall back into poverty when the jobs end or their life circumstances (e.g., illness) make it impossible to continue.

Barriers to employment

Those on the political right who rehash the old well disputed argument about poverty being the result of people wanting to avoid work ignore the poor who are children, disabled, single-parents who can’t afford child care and may not have transportation, the elderly without adequate pensions or any pension, and those who are already working, often full-time, in jobs that pay a poverty-wage. The ignore the hardships and the accumulation of disadvantages that poor children and families often experience. I’ll quote again some of the evidence documenting this statement from Pearlstein’s book.

They ignore how disadvantages begin early in life

“The latest research confirms that it is the earliest environmental influences that matter most. ‘Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning with the prenatal period and extending through the early childhood years,’ a panel of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in a landmark study published in 2000” (p. 109). I delved into one small aspect of this in an earlier post on the “poisoning of Flint.”

They want to deepen the institutionalization of poverty

Based on the victim-blaming assumptions of the Republicans, they want to further limit access to public assistance for the poor; for example, forcing those getting food stamps or Medicaid to work at least twenty hours a month. The predictable outcome would be to increase the number of poor people who will end up with no or even more inadequate government support.

Anti-union

Moreover, Republicans want to pass laws that limit the ability of workers to unionize and eliminate occupational health and safety regulations. A growing number of states now have “right to work” laws and the right-wing Supreme Court has just decided, 5 to 4, that unions can no longer collect fees for their services from non-union members in a workplace, that is for increased wages and benefits or protecting workers from violations of collective bargaining contracts. The right-wing forces in the country hate unions, which have been among the most important institutional vehicles for reducing poverty in American history. Professor Jason Stanley has a useful summary.

“Today, ‘right to work’ legislation has passed in twenty-eight U.S. states, and at the time of this writing threatens to be validated by the Supreme Court, at least for public unions. These laws forbid unions to collect dues from employees who do not wish to pay them, while requiring unions to provide employees who do not choose to pay dues equal union representation and rights. Such legislation is intended to destroy labor unions by removing their access to financial support. ‘Right to work’ is an Orwellian name for legislation that attacks workers’ ability to collectively bargain, thereby robbing workers of a voice” (How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, p. 174).

Criminalizing the poor

In municipalities strapped for revenues, the criminalizing poverty has become a way of generating revenues. Peter Edelman devotes his new book to this subject, which is titled Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America. He writes:

“Beyond mass incarceration, beginning in the 1990s we adopted a new set of criminal justice strategies that further punish poor people for their poverty. Low-income people are arrested for minor violations that are only annoyances for people with means but are disastrous for the poor and near poor because of the high fines and fees we now almost routinely impose. Poor people are held in jail to await trial when they cannot afford bail, fined excessive amounts, and high with continuously mounting costs and fees. Failure to pay begets more jail time, more debts from accumulated interest charges, additional fines and fees, and, in a common penalty with significant consequences for those living below or near the poverty line, repeated driver’s license suspensions. Poor people lose their liberty and often lose their jobs, are frequently barred from a host of public benefits, may lose custody of their children, and may even lose their right to vote” (p. xiii).

As indicated, the expansion of the already massive system of jails and prisons, imprisoning disproportionately high numbers of African Americans and Latinos, and the building of for-profit detention centers and concentration camps for refugees trying to enter the country are a testimony to how the poor suffer from institutional arrangements and government policies that limit opportunities and ignore the tribulations and consequences of poverty. All the while, the president and Republican Party advance the most anti-immigration policies in generations.

The Challenges

We now find ourselves in a political situation in which approaches one-party rule, as the Republicans have control of the presidency, more and more of the executive branch agencies, both houses of the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court and more and more positions in the federal judiciary, and the majority of state governments. Responding to the challenge, Democrats and activists of all stripes are working to register, educate, and mobilize voters for the upcoming mid-term elections in November. And polls indicate that they have a good chance of taking control of the House of Representatives, electing perhaps 10 additional Democratic governors…. And there is the hope that there will be additional Democratic victories in 2020.

If all this should transpire, there are great and pressing challenges to confront. It will take not only a mobilized and educated electorate and victories at the polls that bring strong progressive Democratic majorities to the White House and the U.S. Congress, but also strong initiatives to implement policies that reign in corporate power, introduce progressive taxes, campaign finance reform, and a Medicare-for-all health care policy, that protect voters’ rights, that strengthen the social safety net and consider the idea of a basic income for everyone, that reverse the anti-union “right to work” laws, that accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, that revamp foreign policy in ways to advance international agreements and reduce the threats and use of military force, that renew international efforts toward rational climate and environmental policies, that are aimed at phasing out of nuclear weapons, that ensure protection of the reproductive rights of women and the constitutional rights of all citizens to fair treatment….

There is much to be done, the opposition is powerful and relentless, and there little time to do it.